"Christie handled about as well as he could. Unless smoking gun turns up tying him to scheme, or others arise, he lives 2 fight another day," President Obama's former chief strategist, David Axelrod, said via Twitter. (Other Democrats gleefully piled on with criticism of Christie and Republicans he is expected to campaign with this year.)
Republicans almost universally contended that the issue was overblown.
"I can assure you the average Republican primary voter of 2016 does not give a tinker's darn about whether lanes were closed in Fort Lee, N.J., by a staffer who was unhappy the mayor didn't endorse Christie," said Steve Duprey, one of two New Hampshire representatives on the Republican National Committee.
Tom Rath, another veteran strategist in the first presidential primary state, said the matter would blow over "as long as this stays at this level of information [and] as long as he doesn't get any closer to it."
But there was another threat, one that Christie's expressions of humility and embarrassment on Thursday were meant to blunt: It could emphasize the downside of his take-no-prisoners persona that critics have described as bullying.
Christie took pains to deny that he was angry, engaged in political payback, or promoting a brutish culture. "I am who I am, but I am not a bully," he said.
That he had to repeatedly deny it spoke to the problem. "It does hint at what's the real fuel for his candidacy, which is his personality," said Republican strategist Mike Murphy. "The question is whether it rockets him to the White House or turns into a political H-bomb mushrooming over New Hampshire."
In New Jersey, according to Ben Dworkin, a political scientist at the state's Rider University, the incident could undermine voters' acceptance of Christie.
"They didn't particularly care if he yelled at teachers unions, which aren't very popular. That was fine with voters. This is different because it's an abuse-of-power allegation. It's a whole new level of bullying. It's like comparing the difference between a kid who picks on other kids in the schoolyard and a teacher or the principal picking on a kid."
Some of those affected said they would reserve judgment. Craig Leeds, a Fort Lee lawyer, said he considered himself a Christie supporter before the emails were revealed. Whether he continues to be one depends on what else emerges.
"I'm still optimistic and still very much hopeful that it will turn out that he had no knowledge of this very unfortunate and extremely political action," he said.
But Miriam Hernandez said she regrets voting for Christie in November. She's a crossing guard who had to deal with the traffic; her husband's 45-minute commute stretched to three hours. She isn't convinced that Christie was uninvolved.
"I don't buy it for a second," she said. "But I could be wrong."
Semuels reported from Fort Lee, Decker from Los Angeles and Barabak from San Francisco.