Over the last few days, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) has been hit again with criticism over the spending of Hurricane Sandy relief funds on tourism ads starring himself and his family. The Asbury Park Press reported this weekend that a state agency, headed by a close Christie aide, had bypassed a lower bidder to award the $2 million contract to a politically connected public affairs firm.
Close observers of the New Jersey political scene are skeptical, however, that the renewed criticism will do any real damage to Christie's reelection bid.
"It opened him up to fodder for criticism," Montclair State University political science professor Brigid Harrison told The Huffington Post. "It is not a game-changer."
The Asbury Park Press report brought a critical editorial Tuesday from one of New Jersey's leading newspapers, The Star-Ledger, and sharp words from Democratic gubernatorial nominee Barbara Buono.
But John Weingart, associate director of the Eagleton Institute of Politics at Rutgers University, said that with Christie's 30 percentage point lead over Buono, many voters have made up their minds and any criticism will bounce off the incumbent.
Harrison suggested that two issues in particular will keep the tourism ad criticism from sticking to Christie. The first, she said, is that residents may see the ad as benefiting the Jersey Shore's leading industry in the wake of the state's largest natural disaster. The second is the complexity of the story, which covers the nature of the funds, the process used to award the contract and the involvement of a top Christie aide.
The contract was awarded by a state panel headed by Michele Brown, CEO of the state Economic Development Authority. Brown was earlier criticized for accepting a loan from Christie when she worked for him in the U.S. attorney's office. Before taking over the EDA, she was the governor's patronage chief.
"The mechanics of it are problematic," Harrison said. "Getting that complicated message out of Sandy money being used for self-promotion is a complicated path for voters to follow."
On the other hand, Harrison said some voters may be upset at Christie's using relief funds on the self-starring ad campaign while he's seeking a second term. The tourist ads are being seen across the Northeast and as far south as Virginia. That area is home to many potential Jersey Shore visitors, she noted, but it also includes states important to the 2016 presidential map.
Christie is not the first New Jersey governor to star in tourism ads, a practice that famously includes then-Gov. Tom Kean (R) strolling along the Shore in the 1980s. Gov. Christine Todd Whitman (R) walked the shoreline in the 1990s, and Govs. Donald DiFrancesco (R) and Jim McGreevey (D) starred with their wives in ads over the last decade.
Other states have adopted the same practice. Then-California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) starred in tourism commercials with first lady Maria Shriver. New York first lady Libby Pataki appeared on posters promoting the state's agriculture industry when her husband, Republican George Pataki, was governor.
Weingart said Garden State voters enjoy their politicians basking in the limelight.
"People in New Jersey have state pride," he said. "They were happy when [then-Sen.] Bill Bradley was a star. They are happy with Chris Christie and Cory Booker being stars."
At the same time, Harrison did question whether the ads will be effective this year.
"There is no doubt that Governor Christie is New Jersey's most recognizable commodity," she said. "I don't know if watching the Christies frolicking on the beach will get people to come to the shore."
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"It's Not My Time" (3 Doors Down)
<strong><a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/10/04/chris-christie-2012-decision-_n_993910.html" target="_hplink">(Oct. 4, 2011) --</a></strong> Christie announced that he will not run for the Republican presidential nomination in 2012, vowing that "now is not my time." He quipped to New Jersey residents "whether you like it or not, you're stuck with me."
"Need You Now" (Lady Antebellum)
<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/10/11/chris-christie-mitt-romney_n_1005601.html" target="_hplink"><strong>LEBANON, N.H. (Oct. 11, 2011) --</strong></a> After dismissing calls to run for president himself, Christie endorsed Romney, telling the GOP that he is the candidate we need now.
"How Do I Live" (LeAnn Rimes)
<strong><a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/12/07/chris-christie-town-hall_n_1133756.html" target="_hplink">WEST NEW YORK, N.J. (Dec. 7, 2011) --</a></strong> At a local town hall, Christie did not take kindly to a <a href="http://videos.nj.com/star-ledger/2011/12/video_chris_christie_asked_if.html" target="_hplink">constituent's question</a> about how his administration conducts these types of meetings. He showed the individual little mercy, going "if I plant questions, why the hell did I call on you?"
"Can You Feel The Love Tonight" (Elton John)
<strong><a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/12/08/chris-christie-mic-checked-occupy-wall-street_n_1136762.html" target="_hplink">(Dec. 8, 2011) --</a></strong> Occupy Wall Street protesters interrupted Christie during an appearance in Iowa, making him a target of the movement's "mic check" trend.
"Shut Up" (The Black Eyed Peas)
<strong><a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/02/22/chris-christie-warren-buffett_n_1294579.html" target="_hplink">(Feb. 21, 2012) --</a></strong> In an interview with CNN's Piers Morgan, Christie had some choice words for Warren Buffett, surrounding the billionaire investor's desire to be taxed at a higher rate. "Just write a check and shut up," he remarked.
"American Idiot" (Green Day)
<strong><a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/03/09/christie-argues-with-veteran_n_1334963.html" target="_hplink">(March 9, 2012) --</a></strong> Christie argued with a former Navy SEAL over the New Jersey's plans to reconfigure public universities. The result? Some fire from the governor's tongue, as he called the veteran an "idiot."
"Call Me Maybe" (Carly Rae Jepsen)
<strong><a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/04/13/chris-christie-talks-vp-p_n_1423271.html" target="_hplink">(April 13, 2012) --</a></strong> Throughout Mitt Romney's run for the White House, Christie made it known that he was open to a vice presidential nod (should Romney ask him).
"Rocky Ground" (Bruce Springsteen)
<strong><a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/04/19/chris-christie-sleeping-bruce-springsteen-_n_1438337.html" target="_hplink">(April 19, 2012) --</a></strong> Christie vehemently denied reports that he was sleeping at a Bruce Springsteen concert in New York City. <em><strong>
"I Don't Really Care" (Waka Flocka Flame)
<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/04/30/chris-christie-jimmy-kimmel_n_1465608.html" target="_hplink">(April 30, 2012) --</a> Christie responded to jokes comedian Jimmy Kimmel made about his weight at the 2012 White House Correspondents Dinner, throwing Sofia Vergara into the mix. "I figured I was in the zone of danger," he said.
"Ready Or Not" (The Fugees)
<strong><a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/08/14/chris-christie-gop-keynote-convention_n_1774525.html" target="_hplink">(Aug. 14, 2012) --</a></strong> After entertaining the idea of running for president and making Mitt Romney's short list of VP candidates, Christie was named the keynote speaker at the 2012 Republican National Convention. "I'll try to tell some very direct and hard truths to people in the country about the trouble that we're in and the fact that fixing those problems is not going to be easy for any of them," he told <em>USA Today</em>.