What today could have meant for Chris Christie (and what it actually means)

It's a big day for New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R). But probably not in the way he envisioned.


(Mel Evans/AP)

Christie will deliver his annual State of State address this afternoon. It could have been a plum opportunity to solidify his standing atop the probable 2016 GOP field with a policy speech designed to hit all the right notes and catch the attention of a national audience increasingly attuned to the governor.

Instead, Christie's policy rhetoric is sure to be overshadowed by "Bridge-gate," the traffic scandal that has upstaged everything else in his world for the last six days.

Christie, in typical fashion, is going to aim to make the speech a talker. He'll propose a longer school day and year.

"This is a key step to improve student outcomes, and boost our competitiveness. We should do it now," Christie plans to say, according to excerpts of his speech.

Under different circumstances, that would probably be one of the buzziest parts of the address. Instead, what he says (or doesn't say) about a decision by former aides and appointees to target the city of Fort Lee for major traffic issues will be the focal point of Christie's remarks. He's expected to address the scandal in the address, but not at great length.

It's why this such a rough period for Christie. A large part of dealing with a negative story is absorbing the impact of what actually happened. But the process consequences shouldn't be overlooked. Major scandals like this one tend to follow pols around, trumping just about everything else they say or do. That's certainly been the case with Christie so far, even as he says he had nothing to do with Bridge-gate and there's no evidence that he did.

Effective governance and the utility of collaboration will be a major theme of Christie's speech. He plans to talk about the power of cooperation.

Coming off a landslide victory in which he won about a third of Democratic voters and more recently, a deal on a Dream Act to provide in-state tuition rates for New Jersey students brought into the country illegally as children, Christie knows a thing or two about working with Democrats.

But as he gets set to give his speech, Democrats have quickly grown skeptical of him. A Monmouth University/Asbury Park Press poll released Monday showed Christie's approval rating falling nine points among Democrats since December.

Instead of bolstering a remarkably strong case among Democrats, Christie will be trying to regain their loyalty.

Things can change in a hurry in politics. Bridge-gate is a stark reminder of that reality. No one in the GOP was hotter than Christie in late 2013.

A high-profile policy speech in early 2014 would have been just the thing for Christie to follow up with to intensify his momentum. But circumstances being what they are, that's no longer in the cards. The best he can hope for is to shift the conversation away from the negativity of Bridge-gate and toward his agenda.

Even that may prove to be a tough climb.

Fixbits:

Fewer young adults are signing up for health-care via the marketplaces than the Obama administration has said are needed to make Obamacare work.

It's Election Day in Florida's 13th district! Polls close at 7 p.m. We'll have coverage throughout the day.

None of the Republicans running in the Florida primary would commit to backing John Boehner (R-Ohio) for speaker.

And soon-to-be Democratic nominee Alex Sink rejected carpetbagging charges, saying, "It's not like I moved from Miami."

Christie's dealings with other mayors are being scrutinized.

And federal auditors are looking at his use of Hurricane Sandy recovery money.

Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.) plans to retire.

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) hired the aide who was fired by the Republican Study Committee.

Sen. Mark Pryor (D-Ark.) raised $1.1 million during the fourth quarter of 2013.

Rep. Sean Maloney (D-N.Y.) plans to wed his longtime partner.

Businessman Mike Parrish (D) will run for the seat of retiring Rep. Jim Gerlach (R-Pa.).

Must-reads: 

"Reid, Boehner face showdowns on unemployment benefits, farm bill" -- Paul Kane, Washington Post

"Terry McAuliffe seeks to set a bipartisan tone on first workday as Virginia governor" -- Laura Vozzella, Washington Post

Sean Sullivan has covered national politics for The Washington Post since 2012.
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