AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
Embattled New Jersey Governor Chris Christie was back in the spotlight today. The annual State of the State speech came at an awkward moment for Christie. The Republican governor had not spoken publicly since apologizing last week for politically motivated lane closures at the George Washington Bridge. Christie acknowledged the unfolding scandal at the start of his speech.
GOVERNOR CHRIS CHRISTIE: The last week has certainly tested this administration. Mistakes were clearly made. And as a result, we let down the people we're entrusted to serve. I know our citizens deserve better, much better. Now, I'm the governor, and I'm ultimately responsible for all that happens on my watch, both good and bad.
CORNISH: For more on Governor Chris Christie's State of the State speech, I'm joined by NPR's Joel Rose. And, Joel, what else can you us about how Christie actually addressed the scandal?
JOEL ROSE, BYLINE: Well, he addressed it quickly and indirectly. As you heard in that clip, he took responsibility at the very beginning of the speech and then he pretty much moved on. I would say that Christie was restrained and careful, maybe even tentative, especially at the beginning of the speech. This is a guy who is usually outgoing, loud, even combative, can talk for hours off-the-cuff at town hall meetings. By contrast, he seemed relatively cautious, I would say, today.
Christie talked about the accomplishments of his first term, then he moved on to, I guess what you would call the mundane details of governing. It was a familiar list of topics that includes property tax relief, education reform, stuff that, you know, you would expect to hear from - in the second term agenda of a Republican governor in New Jersey.
CORNISH: And Governor Christie has been talked about as a potential presidential contender. So was there a sense that he was speaking to multiple audiences today, not just New Jersey voters?
ROSE: Yeah, I would say so. I mean, most literally, he was speaking to the lawmakers in the chamber, including some who are investigating Christie's administration looking for possible abuses of power in the George Washington Bridge lane closure scandal. He was also speaking to voters in New Jersey and maybe also nationally, voters who may still be, you know, forming opinions about Chris Christie. Some of them may be wondering, is this guy the hyper-partisan bully that his critics describe, a guy who would do anything to run up the score during his re-election campaign last year? Or is Chris Christie the guy that New Jersey voters love, especially Republicans and independents, kind of a straight-talking real Jersey guy who's willing to work across the aisle to get things done?
And I think there's a third important constituency also, which is Republican power brokers and big money fundraisers who will be sort of watching - dissecting the speech and wondering, does Chris Christie looked presidential? Can he take a punch? Can he dust himself off and still move forward with his agenda and, you know, even after a major scandal like the one that he's involved in? So a lot going on here. Christie clearly isn't going to move - put the whole scandal behind him with one speech, but he has to get through it and move forward.
CORNISH: So at this point, what's known about how New Jersey voters are feeling about this whole George Washington Bridge controversy?
ROSE: Well, it's too soon to say how they felt about the State of the State speech today, but we do have some insight into how they feel about the governor's performance last week. There was a Monmouth University/Asbury Park Press poll released yesterday that found 80 percent of those surveyed think that more Christie staffers are going to be implicated in the lane closure scandal. A slight majority - 51 percent - think the governor has not been completely honest. But all that said, Christie remains very popular. His approval rating is 59 percent, which is pretty good for a guy in the middle of a scandal.
CORNISH: That's NPR's Joel Rose. Joel, thank you.
ROSE: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.