Washington Secrets

GOP pollster after Chris Christie press conference: He's still No. 1 for 2016

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Paul Bedard,Washington Secrets,Marco Rubio,New Jersey,2016 Elections,Chris Christie,George W. Bush,Scott Walker

The traffic scandal that has engulfed New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and his 2016 presidential hopes has opened the door for Jeb Bush, the former Florida governor with a similar record as a can-do leader who, like Christie, is attractive voters beyond the GOP conservative base.

"In the time up to and during the 2016 primaries, stumbles made by high profile Republicans like Christie can cause the light to be shined on other potential candidates,” said GOP adviser Ron Bonjean. “Jeb Bush is someone that will likely emerge as another player in the upcoming primary because of his qualifications."

Bush has so far only toyed with a bid, held back by family concerns and the lingering unpopularity of his brother, former President George W. Bush. However, in some presidential preference polls, he comes in second or third to Christie.

The affair over using a horrific traffic jam to punish a Democratic enemy, which Christie has denied involvement in, undermines the GOP front-runner's image as a bipartisan leader and capable fixer and could have moderate Republicans looking for an alternative like Bush or Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker.

“It has opened a void,” said a House leadership strategist who has advised several former GOP presidential candidates. “That has us turning to Jeb, Walker and even [Florida Sen. Marco] Rubio to fill the vacancy for the establishment money,” said the strategist.

GOP pollster Kellyanne Conway told Secrets that Christie is likely to survive the affair, but it still gives others like Bush an opening.

"Although an 'in-the-dark-about-Bridgegate’ Christie will be fine, other candidates who share space with him in the center-right of the political spectrum may sense an opening. That could include Gov. Jeb Bush who, like Christie, is a media favorite and supports some pro-immigrant reforms and Common Core. The real test now will be how these candidates now fare in early polls in early primary and caucus states and whether the donors who have lined up behind Christie will stay superglued to him or look around for an alternative."

After watching Christie's TV press conference, done without a Teleprompter and mostly without notes, she said said that the governor should be able to move on because his performance hit the right tone.

"He just solidified his spot as a 2016 frontrunner," she said noting how different his press conference was compared to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's defense before Congress of her handling of the Benghazi affair.

"Hillary never has and never could hold a presser like this, devoid of 'uhs' and dodges and filled with raw emotion, humility, apology and resolve. She should have hired Chris Christie to coach her before the Benghazi hearing," said Conway.

Not all believe that Christie’s troubles will immediately reshuffle the GOP presidential deck, however. One is Frank Luntz, the GOP strategist, who told Secrets, “Jeb is the one potential candidate in the field who will decide on his own time and his own terms. What is happening to Christie — or any other candidate for that matter — will have no impact.”

Republican sources, meanwhile, said they were happy that the traffic scandal hit now and not after the 2016 primaries.

“This is utter relief that this sort of stuff is coming out now and not AFTER the 2016 primary,” one GOP presidential strategist emailed. “At least voters have a more complete picture going in to a primary.”

Paul Bedard, the Washington Examiner's "Washington Secrets" columnist, can be contacted at pbedard@washingtonexaminer.com.
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