By Victoria Cavaliere
NEW YORK (Reuters) - A Democratic group with ties to Hillary Clinton has launched a campaign attacking New Jersey Governor Chris Christie over a political flap in his home state in an early skirmish between the two likely contenders in the 2016 presidential race.
The group, Correct the Record, is promoting a graphic on social media sites Twitter and Facebook depicting Christie at the George Washington Bridge with traffic signs that read "Political Retribution" and "Lanes Closed. Expect Christie?"
The group said on Thursday it aims to put a national face on a local controversy that began in September, when two out of three local on-ramps to the George Washington Bridge in New Jersey were inexplicably closed in the town of Fort Lee.
The closings snarled traffic and angered New York City-bound commuters who use the bridge, the busiest span in the nation. The lanes were re-opened after several days.
New Jersey Democrats contend the lane closures were ordered by Christie supporters at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which oversees the region's transportation facilities.
They say it was political retribution aimed at the Democratic mayor of Fort Lee, who refused to support Christie's re-election bid.
A Christie ally and appointee at Port Authority, David Wildstein, last week announced his resignation over the flap.
"This meme puts it front and center that Governor Christie and his administration owe clear and honest answers to the people of New Jersey about this alleged abuse of power for political retribution," said Adrienne Elrod, spokeswoman for Correct the Record, an arm of Democratic Super PAC American Bridge.
Correct the Record, which describes itself as a "rapid response group" to defend Democratic presidential candidates, was started by four former senior staffers for Hillary Clinton.
The former U.S. Secretary of state is widely expected to make a White House run in 2016.
Christie has denied any knowledge of the lane closures and said Democrats were pushing the issue for political gain.
Asked about the closures last week, Christie responded in a sarcastic tone: "I was working the cones."
With three years to go before the next presidential election, political observers are eyeing a possible matchup between Christie, who last month won a second term in a landslide, and former U.S. Secretary of State Clinton, who lost the Democratic nomination for president to Barack Obama in 2008.
Two opinion polls released this week show Christie and Clinton in a dead heat in the race for the White House.
One poll showed Christie leading Clinton 42 percent to 41 percent, while the other showed Clinton at 48 percent over Christie at 45 percent.
Clinton holds double-digit leads in hypothetical matchups against other potential Republican contenders, including former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, former vice-presidential candidate and U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin and U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida.
A Christie candidacy could make the solidly Democratic New Jersey a swing-state in the election.
In a hypothetical matchup against Clinton, New Jersey voters would elect Christie 46 percent to 43 percent, according to a Monmouth University/Asbury Park Press Poll.
(Editing by Ellen Wulfhorst and Gunna Dickson)