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Rich Zeoli: Christie's Bridge To Conservative Primary Voters In 2016

By Rich Zeoli

PHILADELPHIA (CBS)--Chris Christie's chances of becoming the Republican nominee for President of the United States in 2016 have increased exponentially since the lanes closures in Fort Lee, i.e.: Bridgegate.

Barring a major shoe dropping, Christie has gone from the last choice among many conservative primary voters to being the object of their sympathy. All courtesy of the same national media that once made conservatives cringe at the thought of a Christie White House run.

Earlier this week it was announced that Christie will speak at the Conservative Political Action Conference, CPAC. This annual gathering of conservatives features Republicans trying to prove to the base they are the most conservative choice. In the past, Christie was not invited, an intentional dis that most assigned to his post Hurricane Sandy appearances with President Obama.

On my own radio show Monday thru Friday 6-9 p.m., I've heard from countless conservative callers who have said Christie is their last choice for 2016. But it wasn't necessarily for policy disagreements. Surprisingly, they cited his cozying up to the mainstream media. From Morning Joe, to the Today Show, to eating donuts on David Letterman, conservatives saw the media love of Christie as deeply troubling and thought: "If the media likes this guy so much, he can't possibly be for us."

All of that changed with lane closures and the subsequent media obsession. Suddenly Christie went from being a guy who was a fixture in the MSNBC studios as the kind of Republican the media advocated, to being the subject of relentless scandal coverage.

That's why his chances in 2016 among hardcore Republican primary votes have improved dramatically.

The New York Times and MSNBC is covering the scandal with the kind of nonstop devotion that is normally reserved for Presidents, but always reserved for Republicans they hate. Does this mean they hate Christie? Well most conservatives feel that the media hates all Republicans, but particularly the ones they think can defeat a Democratic candidate for the White House.

The same conservative voters who used to doubt Christie's conservative bona fides are now being bombarded by the incessant coverage of Bridgegate while hearing crickets from the media about scandals surrounding the President. When MSNBC devotes this much air time to Christie's troubles and the NY Times goes on the attack the Friday before Super Bowl weekend, it makes conservatives sit up and think:

"If the media is this obsessed with taking him down, how bad can he be?

This brings me back to 2016. Christie's bump on the road to the White House was always going to be the Republican primary. He hasn't had a problem attracting Democratic voters. He won them in New Jersey. He hasn't had a problem attracting moderate Republicans; he won them in New Jersey too. His problem was always going to be the conservative primary voters who greet him with the skepticism deserved of a Northeastern moderate Republican.

But don't overlook what Christie offers conservative primary voters: he is pro-life. Christie vetoed gay marriage. While he didn't fight the NJ Supreme Court on their decision regarding the issue, he didn't jump on the legalize marriage bandwagon either. He has not signed any new gun laws and his administration is not defending NJ's ridiculous law that forces a person to prove an immediate need before they are allowed to carry a handgun. Combined with his very public fights against the teachers' unions and his efforts to cut income taxes by 10 percent and you have a compelling case for conservative voters.

Is he the most conservative? Nope. He still has to overcome positions that infuriate conservatives such as signing NJ's version of the Dream Act, agreeing global warming is likely man-made and saying that being in this country illegally is not a crime. He also hasn't shown the proclivity towards cutting government spending that conservatives crave in their candidates.

But, each day the media chooses to focus on Bridgegate while practically ignoring Democratic Senator Bob Menendez's ongoing federal investigation, or New Jersey Congressman Rob Andrews' federal investigation, or Benghazi, or the IRS targeting of conservatives, or any other scandal surrounding a Democrat, conservatives are much more likely to not only forgive Christie for any past indiscretions, but to also sit up and think:

"Maybe the media is so focused on bringing him down is because this guy can actually win."

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