Bridge-gate-scarred Gov. Chris Christie is holding his own with voters, but the Republican's image as a potential presidential candidate has taken a hit, two new polls showed Wednesday.
In an NBC/Marist poll,
69 percent of those surveyed said the George Washington Bridge controversy hadn't changed their opinions of the governor, but his formerly slim lead
over presumptive Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton is gone, with Christie now trailing the former secretary of state by 13 percentage points in a hypothetical match-up.
In a Quinnipiac poll,
Christie's job approval rating was 55 percent, with 38 percent disapproving, down from his all-time-high 74 percent approval last February, the poll showed.
But 49 percent said the scandal hurts his chances as a 2016 presidential contender, and 7 percent said it ends those dreams. Thirty-eight percent said the scandal won't affect his shot at the White House at all.
"New Jersey Gov. Christopher Christie is doing better with the public than with the news media. His job approval has dropped from the stratosphere, but it's still double-digit-positive, pretty much where he was before his Superstorm Sandy hug with President Barack Obama," said Maurice Carroll, director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute.
Both polls found voters largely dismiss Christie's reputation as a bully.
The Marist poll found that 47 percent view Christie as a strong leader, while 27 percent consider him a bully. The Quinnipiac survey showed 54 percent of voters think the governor is a leader, while 40 percent consider his style more bully -- one of his lowest "bully" scores since the poll first asked the question in 2010.
"We stopped asking that 'bully' question 18 months ago," Carroll said. "But we tried it again and, even with all the 'Bridge-gate' stories, he still scores higher as a leader than as a bully. Except with Democrats. More than half of them still say 'bully' -- and not in a good way."
The Marist survey may be most telling about Christie's presidential appeal to voters across the country: Clinton polls at 50 percent, while Christie trails with 37 percent among nationwide voters. In the same poll a month ago, Clinton's lead was 3 points, at 48 percent to Christie's 45 percent.
But the poll found Christie is still leading the GOP pack with 16 percent, followed by Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin with 12 percent, Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky with 9 percent, and Florida Gov. Jeb Bush with 8 percent.
"The numbers suggest it's far from politically fatal for him," said Lee Miringoff, director of the Marist College Institute for Public Opinion, adding, however, that Americans "are getting to know to him, and that's maybe not the best way to introduce himself to a national audience."
Among possible GOP presidential hopefuls, "it’s about as wide open as it can get," Miringoff added.
The polls come in the wake of last week's release of documents showing some of Christie's aides and appointees were involved in closing lanes leading to the George Washington Bridge in September, causing traffic problems in nearby Fort Lee as suspected political payback because its mayor didn't endorse the governor's re-election.
Christie fired an aide and his top political adviser after emails connected them to the scandal, but has insisted he had no knowledge
of their involvement.
Both polls had margins of error of plus-or-minus 2.8 percentage points.
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