New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie took the oath of office for his second term Tuesday afternoon surrounded by many of his fiercest critics amid a swirl of political scandals that have roiled his state and his political fortunes.
With fanfare and gun salutes, the famously outspoken governor tried to move beyond the controversies, making no mention of the traffic scandal that has imperiled his presidential hopes. He didn’t address questions over the use of Hurricane Sandy recovery funds on television ads, or recent allegations that his lieutenant governor threatened to withhold relief funding from a local Democratic mayor.
As Democrats in the statehouse and federal investigators proceed on parallel tracks, the wood-paneled and gold-trim theater and Trenton War Memorial proved to be an awkward setting for the inauguration. A snowstorm kept the seats half-filled. Critics and defenders shared the stage, with some only half-heartedly applauding him. New Jersey Democratic Sen. Cory Booker skipped the proceedings entirely.
In contrast to the bully image with which he’s been branded of late, Christie, a Republican tried to strike a measured, bipartisan tone to begin his second term, decrying an attitude “that says I am always right and you are always wrong.”
“As your governor, I will always be willing to listen, as long as that listening ends in decisive action for the people counting on us,” he said in a subdued speech.
Christie attempted to refocus attention on his second-term legislative priorities, after his State of the State address last week was upstaged by the scandals. Hoping to salvage his political future, Christie worked to remind New Jersey residents and a growing caucus of GOP doubters of his overwhelming reelection victory, and his success making inroads with minority voters.
“It was the largest and loudest voice of affirmation that the people of our state have given to any direction in three decades,” he said. “This election has taught us that the ways we divide each other—by race, by class, by ethnicity, by wealth, by political party is neither permanent nor necessary…We have to be willing to play outside the red and blue boxes the media and pundits put us in; we have to be willing to reach out to others who look or speak differently than us; we have to be willing to personally reach out a helping hand to a neighbor suffering from drug addiction, depression or the dignity stripping loss of a job.”
But the turmoil has already wrecked havoc on his poll numbers, both inside New Jersey and nationally. A Quinnipiac University survey released minutes before Christie took the oath of office found that the governor would trail former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in a hypothetical 2016 matchup. The pair were tied in the same survey just a month ago, with Christie ceding a large lead among independent voters.