Chris Christie's 'Stronger than the Storm' Campaign Fails to Deliver

As of Sunday, your drive to work or enjoyment of "The View" will no longer be marred by those annoyingly catchy "Strong than the Storm" ads. 

But with a gubernatorial campaign being increasingly waged on Christie's response to the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy, it will be months before New Jerseyans are completely free of the entanglements of that anger-inducing jingle. 

As we leave Labor Day in the past and examine New Jersey's all-important tourism season, it's becoming more clear that the $25 million ad campaign (which cost $2 million more than other bids and prominently featured Christie and his wife) didn't serve its intended purpose - getting people to visit the shore. 

It's hard to know what kind-of results could have been gained with an ad campaign focused on the individual shore towns instead of Christie (as I suggested in a previous column, maybe "Wildwood is stronger than the storm" might have been more effective), but chinks are beginning to appear in Christie's political armor built on strong democratic support over his initial handling of the storm.

According to Christie himself, tourism revenues are down by as much as 40 percent, and anecdotal evidence from business owners up and down the shore seems to support the lag in business. Rentals were off by 30 to 40 percent, and beaches in central and northern New Jersey saw as much as an 80 percent decline in the number of beach tags sold.

 It's interesting to watch Christie as the response to his handling of Sandy has gone from near-universal support to some questioning his decision making.

For an outspoken guy who claims not to care about what people think, he's beginning to bristle under the scrutiny his Shore rebuilding and promotion efforts are receiving. 

Last week, Christie accused his gubernatorial opponent, Sen. Barbara Buono, of "politicizing" post-Sandy efforts by daring to publicize the plight of a Neptune couple frustrated by roadblocks impeding the progress to rebuild their home. But where was Christie last week ? On a political "shore tour" touting his recovery achievements since Sandy. 

When it comes to the thousands of New Jerseyans still not back in his home, Christie quickly deflected blame to federal agencies like the National Flood Insurance Program. He called the Small Business Administration "a disaster" worthy of intervention, despite the fact that a federal task force reported that it played an "integral role" in recovery efforts.

But what's his defense of the New Jersey Economic Development Authority, which has approved just 51 of the 360 grant applications submitted? The agency still has $260 million in grants and $100 million in loans for businesses that qualify - maybe some of the ad money that went to promoting Christie's national profile could have gone to letting business know about help they could have received. 

Rudy Giuliani was beloved as a national hero following the attacks of 9/11, but became increasingly marginalized as the recovery effort that followed hit predictable bumps in the road. All signs still point to Christie sailing to an easy gubernatorial victory, but as we move farther away from Sandy and he look towards a potential 2016 presidential campaign, he won't be able to sail on his Sandy laurels. 

And he won't get away with simply calling his critics "idiots" or "dopes," despite how presidential he thinks it seems. 


Speaking of Wildwood earlier, I had the chance to hang out with the crew of WHYY's "Newsworks Tonight" as they broadcast live from the boardwalk. The town's iconic sign inspired me to doodle this:





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