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Scandal burnishes image of Christie as bully

By Erin McPike, CNN Correspondent
updated 10:51 AM EST, Fri January 10, 2014
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Reputation as straight talker catapulted Chris Christie onto national stage
  • Critics have accused New Jersey governor of being a bully
  • Christie denied label at news conference apologizing for bridge traffic scandal
  • Bully reputation likely to follow Christie if he runs for president in 2016

Trenton, New Jersey (CNN) -- Chris Christie's signature tough-talking style earned him plaudits from the press and politicos alike from the moment he emerged on the national stage as a candidate for New Jersey governor in 2009.

It quickly catapulted him into a wider arena, the kind of place most politicians can only dream of: Whispers started coming soon after his election that he could star on a presidential ticket for the Republican Party. He seemed authentic. The real deal.

But that same quick wit and fiery spirit has caused his fans heartburn from time to time and led critics to make the case the straight talker who vows to get things done can also be an intimidating bully.

Christie rejects that characterization.

"I am not a bully," he said during a nearly two-hour news conference Thursday to address allegations that aides orchestrated traffic jams to punish a mayor who declined to endorse the governor's re-election.

More details coming in Christie bridge scandal

Christie investigation just starting
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is embroiled in unfolding controversies over alleged political payback. The primary scandal involves suggestions key aides and supporters orchestrated traffic gridlock around the George Washington Bridge in Fort Lee last year to punish that town's mayor for not endorsing Christie's reelection. A separate controversy involves a federal watchdog's review of whether Christie improperly used Superstorm Sandy funds to produce tourism ads starring him and his family. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is embroiled in unfolding controversies over alleged political payback. The primary scandal involves suggestions key aides and supporters orchestrated traffic gridlock around the George Washington Bridge in Fort Lee last year to punish that town's mayor for not endorsing Christie's reelection. A separate controversy involves a federal watchdog's review of whether Christie improperly used Superstorm Sandy funds to produce tourism ads starring him and his family.
Who's who in Christie bridge scandal
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Who\'s who in Christie bridge scandal Who's who in Christie bridge scandal
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Political fallout for Christie

There's no evidence tying Christie to the scandal, but the controversy plays to a stereotype. He'll have to combat this entrenched belief, particularly if he seeks the Republican presidential nomination in 2016.

Republicans went wild over Christie when he took on teachers' unions in his first year in office. He never backed down and wound up putting unions on the defensive, cutting some of their benefits.

GOP loyalists loved the act, but teachers balked.

Some of his outbursts have extended beyond partisan politics. He's dressed down reporters for asking questions he didn't like. In one 2012 press conference, he barked, "On topic, next question. Thank you all very much, and I'm sorry for the idiot over there."

He's chased hecklers, including one who got to him in Seaside Heights when he was eating an ice cream cone. He followed the heckler while admonishing him.

When House Republicans stalled a bill to provide relief to New Jersey in the wake of Superstorm Sandy, Christie complained: "It's why the American people hate Congress."

Opinion: Christie drops bomb on GOP leaders

And when House Republicans from Colorado sought similar funding for flood relief after Sandy, Christie said, "They're hypocrites. That's what they are."

But he said he makes no apologies for telling it like it is.

He told CNN's Jake Tapper on the day of his re-election in November that he's said things he regrets, of course, but that he thinks people respect him because he's genuine.

And throughout his contrite news conference Thursday, Christie took pains to express that just because he tells it straight, it doesn't make him someone who seeks retribution. He said, "I am not a focus-group tested, blow-dried candidate or governor."

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