New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie addresses a crowd at a...

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie addresses a crowd at a town hall meeting in Manchester, N.J. (March 29, 2012) Credit: AP

WASHINGTON -- New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie took the right steps Thursday with a nearly two-hour news conference and cutting loose two key aides to respond to the growing scandal over the George Washington Bridge lane closures, politicians and analysts said.

But Christie's political future -- and his anticipated run to become the Republican candidate for president in 2016 -- depend on what other information emerges in the days ahead and how he handles it, they said.

"You have to accept what he says as being true," said Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford), who's worked with Christie on regional issues and is exploring his own run for the White House.

But King added, "Going forward, he will either be vindicated or he's in trouble."

Political analyst John J. Pitney Jr. of Claremont McKenna College in California agreed.

"Christie gave himself a breather. If no new revelations emerge -- a big 'if' -- then this story will fade," Pitney said.

But the story could become disqualifying for his future prospects, Pitney said, "if it turns out that Christie did know the details all along."

Even if Christie is not implicated but more of his top aides are, he could face questions about his judgment in hiring staff, Pitney said.

Christie faces weeks, if not months, of internal, legislative and U.S. attorney's investigations -- as well as more digging by reporters -- that could turn up new evidence.

He also faces a steady drumbeat by his political foes, both within the Republican Party and from Democrats, that he's a petty, vindictive bully.

"This has been very damaging, but two years is a long time in politics -- it's many lifetimes in politics," said strategist Michael Dawidziak of Bohemia, who has worked on several Republican presidential campaigns over the years.

"The problem with this [scandal] is that it tarnishes the brand he built: the guy who's on top of things, the straight talker," Dawidziak said.

Already, the Democratic National Committee is fundraising off the scandal, emailing a video to supporters depicting Christie as a self-serving bully.

New York GOP chairman Ed Cox praised Christie's performance in the news conference.

"He has passed his test here with flying colors," said Cox, who was in Washington to attend a commemoration of the 101st birthday of his late father-in-law, President Richard Nixon.

"With respect to this crisis itself, there are going to be ongoing tests," he said.

"There will be a lot of unfair things that will come out, no doubt," Cox said, blaming Democrats. "It will all depend on how he reacts."

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