2016 Wide Open: Christie’s Rising Negatives Outdone by Clinton’s

Photograph by Seth Wenig/AP Photo

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie delivers the State of the State address next to a mural of the George Washington Bridge at G.W. Grill in Fort Lee, N.J., on Jan. 14, 2014.

So, Chris Christie’s national image has taken a body blow.

His unfavorable rating has doubled among adults nationwide from January 2013, when he was the hero of Superstorm Sandy, to January 2014, when he is battling Bridgegate.

Yet is that 34 percent unfavorable rating of the Republican governor of New Jersey registered in the latest Pew Research Center poll released yesterday a bridge too far for someone long viewed as a prospective candidate for president in 2016?

Consider the share of voters nationally who hold a dim view of Republican Jeb Bush, the former governor of Florida, son of one president and brother of another, measured in Quinnipiac University’s early December survey: 38 percent. That’s higher than the share who viewed the two-term governor favorably: 31 percent. Upside down. Yet his continues to surface as the default name for 2016 if the GOP’s other stars falter.

Then there is Democrat Hillary Clinton, the former secretary of state, senator from New York and first lady who, by many accounts, could simply take the stage and claim the prize if she decided to run for president in 2016. Her unfavorable rating in that Quinnipiac survey, a Dec. 3-9 sample of 2,692 registered voters with a 1.9 percent margin of error: 42 percent. (Her faves did run higher, at 53 percent.)

Indeed, that early December survey, testing a hypothetical match-up of two undeclared candidates for president, produced a dead-heat for New Jersey and New York in the national contest: Christie 42 percent, Clinton 41 percent.

That was then, as they say — before Christie’s 19,347-word public apology on Jan. 9 and profession of ignorance in his aides’  ordering of September lane closures on the George Washington Bridge that snarled traffic in Fort Lee, N.J., home of a Democratic mayor who had failed to join the bandwagon for the governor’s overwhelming reelection.

Today, as Christie heads to inauguration for a second term — snow warnings have cancelled the  planned Ellis Island party, with the oath of office taking place in Trenton — 58 percent of adults surveyed nationally have told Pew (in a Jan. 15-19 survey) that they don’t believe Christie didn’t know about the lane closures at the time.

That’s a harsher judgment than NBC News and Marist College found Jan. 12-14, suggesting that things could be getting worse for Christie as the relentless coverage of the controversy enters its third week. The NBC-Marist survey of 1,039 registered voters nationally found 46 percent saying they think he is “mostly telling the truth.” Just 32 percent said he is not, and 22 percent said they are unsure.

Interestingly, the results of this survey were remarkably consistent among voters nationally and residents of New Jersey surveyed.

Nearly half surveyed by NBC and Marist nationally said Christie “comes across” more as a strong leader (49 percent). Only 26 percent said he is what Christie says he is not: A bully.

Christie’s unfavorable rating was running 32 percent in this national survey, higher than his 29 percent favorable — with more than a third of those surveyed saying they were unsure or had never heard of him.

Clinton too had a 39 percent unfavorable, versus 51 favorable.

And in that inevitable Clinton-Christie match-up, she had 50 percent, he 37.

Among the Republicans who rank highest — all below 20 percent — in hypothetical party primary contests in national surveys, Bush’s 38 percent unfavorable rating in that December survey was the highest. Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky stood second at 31 percent, along with Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas scored 27, Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida 25, Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin 16..

Clinton outdid them all, with a 42 percent unfavorable rating.

All of which goes to say that a couple of heavily negative news weeks can take a toll on a politician’s national image. Yet 2016 still looms as an open presidential contest among many still-undeclared candidates in which the perceived front-runner, Clinton, is less popular among more voters than any of the potential Republicans.

Race on.

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