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Graham: Bridge controversy reinforces 'troublesome' rap on Christie

To hear one key Republican senator tell it, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie isn't exactly building any bridges to the key presidential primary state of South Carolina.

South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said that a controversy involving a Christie aide's retaliation against a local Democratic mayor reinforces the image of the Republican governor as a bully.

"It seems to me that this whole bridge thing reinforces a narrative that's troublesome about the guy, he's kind of a bully," Graham told NBC News on Thursday on Capitol Hill, referring to the scandal over land closures on the George Washington Bridge that's engulfed Christie over the past two days.

Graham suggested that Christie's staffers wouldn't have sent such emails if it weren't part of the way Christie governed.

"If anybody in my office had done such a thing, they knew what their fate would be cause I'm not that kind a guy," Graham said. "I just don't see how people that close to him could have felt comfortable enough to do this if they thought their boss wasn't of this mindset. Isn't that just common sense?"

Graham, whose home state traditionally holds the third nominating contest in every presidential election cycle, said he believed Christie would have trouble winning primaries in the South, citing matters of both substance and style.

"I think he's going to have a hard time in the South, I really do. The edge is part of it. You know, he's a little too slick by half," Graham said. 

He added: "I think the problem he's going to have in the South is against the view of his actual positions because it's hard for me to understand what he's for and what he's against on the social side."

Graham later tweeted a complimentary review of Christie's press conference, writing on his official Twitter account: "Gov. Christie's response was much different than how the current White House occupant deals with responsibility." Graham also later told CNN of Christie's performance, "I'm very impressed."

A number of Republicans on Thursday were more forgiving of Christie, though the bridge controversy could easily re-appear in the 2016 presidential primaries. Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, a would-be challenger to Christie in those primaries who has previously quarreled with the governor in the media, chided Christie after a meeting at the White House on Thursday.

"I don't know who emailed who and who works for whom," Paul said. "I have been in traffic before though and I know how angry I am when I'm in traffic and I've always wondered, 'Who did this to me.'"

NBC News' Shawna Thomas contributed reporting.