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Crisis and Opportunity for Christie in New Jersey

Columnist Lisa Bigelow wonders, was the hug seen round the world a self-serving ploy or did it just become one?

Listening to the news this morning, as I write this, the day before Thanksgiving, there are still people suffering and struggling to recover from Hurricane Sandy. The Jersey Shore, lower Fairfield County and New Haven County, the south shore of Long Island, lower Manhattan – the time warp that enveloped the region two weeks ago still exists for a large portion of our neighbors.

Slamming onto shore days before the election, political watchers wondered cynically how Sandy would affect the election. Many observed that Sandy could only “help” President Obama because the storm would give America the opportunity to see him behaving “presidentially.”

Chris Matthews of MSNBC had a foot-in-mouth moment when he “thank[ed] God” for Sandy because it helped the President politically, never mind the thousands of families who lost loved ones, homes and businesses from the storm.

It’s our unfortunate reality, and – for the most part, anyway -- you could see it in the faces of news professionals and read it in journalists’ words, that events like Sandy force an evaluation of how such events affect the political fortunes of those in power.  Did it help Obama? Yes. Did it hurt Mitt Romney? Probably.

But one man in particular, a Republican, gained enormously because of Sandy. And if you’re not sure of whom I write, just check out the name on his embroidered fleece jacket.

Indeed, in the hug seen round the world, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie wound up the big political winner of the superstorm sweepstakes for the hearts and minds of Americans. He didn’t just warmly embrace the President, he committed the almost-unpardonable act of praising him in the final few days before the election, thus proving himself a traitor to many the GOP.

And, to make matters worse -- in the minds of some Republicans, anyway --  he criticized those who had the temerity to ask about the presidential campaign, stating, “if you think right now I give a damn about presidential politics, you don’t know me.”

In the days following the storm it seemed easy to take those words, spoken with such sincerity, at face value. But now, with Christie’s approval rating skyrocketing to 67 percent when it usually hovers closer to 50, my cynical self can’t help but wonder if The Hug was really The Launch.

Or maybe, The Hug didn’t start off as The Launch, but rather became the Acorn of The Launch.

My head swims in the smarminess of it, the operatives smacking their lips at the grotesque opportunity that crisis always brings. The advisers whispering, you know, Governor, now would be an excellent time to quietly put together an exploratory committee for your own 2016 run. Senator Rubio is already fundraising. Perhaps we can just put together some polling for you …

Would anyone like to lay odds on that having already occurred?

Of course, Christie was mentioned many times as a contender for the Romney vice presidential spot.  Yet now, with his demonstration of sparkling bipartisanship, his nearly-obstreperous attitude toward addressing anything other than the storm’s victims and his self-effacing humor on SNL, he may be in an excellent position to take over the lead, no?

Who knows? Perhaps from the Acorn of the Launch do mighty campaigns grow.

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