Menendez and Pascrell paint Christie red

Sarah Palin, Bobby Jindal, Mark Sanford, Rick Perry… Chris Christie?

That’s the association that U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez (D-Hoboken) and U.S. Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-Paterson) tried to make today on a conference call with the press, during which they panned Christie, the GOP’s gubernatorial nominee, for saying he would not accept some money from the federal stimulus package during the primary campaign.

“It is beyond my comprehension that Chris Christie… has aligned himself with these folks,” said Menendez.

Now that the primary is over, Democrats are jumping on the conservative principles Christie espoused while fighting Republican rival Steve Lonegan in the primary. Today, the focus was on comments he made during media appearances in March.

Governors Palin, Jindal, Sanford and Perry – leading lights of the conservative movement — have all famously attempted to reject some of the stimulus funds that were offered to their states.

On WNYC's "The Brian Lehrer" show, he said he would “be reluctant to accept” portions of stimulus funds that had “strings attached from Washington, DC.” In later appearances and campaign events, according to a Democratic State Committee press release sent out after the call, he said that he would reject portions of the money and that the conservative governors' positions "make sense."

Pascrell cited $17.5 billion in stimulus funds for New Jersey, and said that the very strings attached Christie complained about had to do with oversight of the expenditure of that money.

“This is a pure political stunt on Christie’s part to strengthen his conservative bona fides. The primary is over,” he said. “Is he going to try to go to the center? Is he going to try to say some of this money is good, some has strings attached? Tell us what strings attached. Tell us what oversight does not exist?”

Both men denied that they were asked to hold the conference call by the Corzine campaign, saying that they decided to come forward themselves.

In response to a press question, Menendez went as far as to cast doubt on whether Christie conducted himself in a truly non-partisan way as U.S. Attorney.

“I have serious questions that he could have put his whole campaign together so suddenly and never engaged in conversations about politics while he was U.S. Attorney,” he said, citing Assemblyman Rick Merkt’s (R-Mendham) account of Christie’s allies allegedly trying to force him out of the race over the summer as evidence.

When asked whether he felt that any of Christie’s prosecutions or unresolved investigations were politically motivated, however, Menendez – who was subpoenaed by Christie during his heated 2006 U.S. Senate campaign against Tom Kean, Jr. – demurred. Despite frequent off-the-record grousing by Democrats about that incident, and suspicion by Democrats that it played into a larger pattern of politicization of the Justice Department at the time, Menendez has purposefully avoided talk of the subpoena.

“I think I spoke to that at the State Democratic Party days after that happened, and it seemed pretty clear,” he said.

When asked what those comments were, he said “I’ll send them over to you.” also requested a copy of the comments and will post them upon receipt.

Christie Campaign Manager Bill Stepien said that he knows from experience that there was no campaign in place until after Christie resigned as U.S. Attorney in November.

“As the person who opened up the headquarters and started the campaign, I wish there was work done before I started, but sadly that wasn’t the case,” he said. “I think anyone who looks at Chris’s record as U.S. Attorney knows that it was above board, ethical and beyond reproach. To question that is absurd.”

In response to the association of Christie with the four conservative governors, Stepien said “Chris Christie is Chris Christie.”

“It’s who people voted for last week, and it’s who people will vote for in November. We’ll leave it to Jon Corzine’s caddies to call Chris names and to try to label them,” he said. Menendez and Pascrell paint Christie red