LAS VEGAS — As Chris Christie fights to recover from scandal, elite Republican business leaders may be close to dismissing him as a serious contender for president.
Soon after the New Jersey governor downplayed his administration's traffic scandal as "a footnote" in a prospective 2016 campaign, Republican donors at a hedge fund conference in Las Vegas this week shared a decidedly pessimistic view of Christie's presidential prospects. Even self-proclaimed Christie fans said his political image probably has suffered permanent damage, acknowledging they've been forced to look elsewhere for a business-friendly presidential contender.
State and federal investigators continue to probe an apparent political retribution plot within the Christie administration that caused massive traffic delays along the George Washington Bridge last fall. Christie has fired several senior aides and denied direct prior knowledge of the incident.
Thomas Norris, chief investment officer at Michigan-based NFI Advisors Inc., compared Christie's repeated denials to those of President Richard Nixon, who resigned after years of claiming no involvement in the Watergate scandal.
"Is it enough to tarnish his chances? It sure is," Norris, a Republican, said during a break at the annual Skybridge Alternatives conference. The event drew hundreds of financial industry executives, many of them prominent Republican donors, to Las Vegas this week.
Earlier in the week, Christie signaled his interest in a presidential bid in unusually strong terms while appearing at a Washington fiscal summit. Asked if he's thinking of running in 2016 and when he'll make a decision, Christie said, "Yes, and later."
By then, Christie said, the traffic controversy "will be a footnote." He told reporters, "There hasn't been one suggestion that I knew anything."
But the governor's challenge followed him to New York on Thursday before an appearance at the Sept. 11 museum dedication ceremony.