Updated at 3:46 p.m. with comment from governor's office.
I was in the back of a cavernous gymnasium at a Mitt Romney rally in Exeter, New Hampshire on Sunday night when two female protesters interrupted a speech by Romney booster Gov. Christie. They yelled: "Christie kills jobs! Christie kills jobs!" Christie's response, which I wrote about here, became the news of the night:
"Really?" Christie asked.
The crowd roared; they knew what was coming.
And that's when he delivered a line destined for YouTube fame: "Something may go down tonight, but it ain't going to be jobs, sweetheart."
Was Christie making some sort of sexual reference? Was this in some way sexist and sexually inappropriate?
Sitting in the room, listening to it live, I didn't get that impression. As someone who used to write a column about gender relations, I'm pretty attuned to these things. And I'm also fully aware of Christie's history with confrontational remarks -- I even had an interview with Christie in the paper that very day about his pledge to start using his filter more before he says things.
I just heard "going down" as a reference to a rumble and a play off the false accusation that the number of jobs in Jersey were "going down." That's it.
The crowd didn't seem to hear anything untoward, either. No one I interviewed afterward - even two Democrats in the audience - heard the line as some sort of anti-female, sexually suggestive smear. The reporters I was sitting with didn't mention anything, either.
But shortly after the speech my colleague Monica Yant Kinney emailed me to say she most definitely heard a sexual reference. A Facebook friend posted a note saying she was appalled. And by the next morning, a female blogger on Slate kicked off what has now become a minor controversy with an article headlined: "N.J. Gov Chris Christie Responds to Female Hecklers With Offensive Oral Sex Joke."
A video of the statement, below, has more than 80,000 views.
A Washington Post opinion writer has even questioned why he would use the word "sweetheart." And the editorial board of the Star-Ledger wrote on Tuesday: "For a guy who's had problems with women in the past, Chris Christie sure doesn't choose his words too carefully." The paper criticized Christie for referencing "Jersey girls" in his speech, too. (It should be noted that he was talking about women who had actually written "Jersey girls" on their Romney For President signs.)
Michael Drewniak, a spokesman for the governor, said today in an email that the governor "doesn't think in those terms when addressing anyone, and he would never, ever give voice to such a thing. It's just a ridiculous interpretation and a wild stretch."
I've asked Monica to weigh in on this. Check out her blog post here. But also note that another Slate writer - who was also in the room Sunday - says he just thought that Christie was referencing the fact that the protesters were about to get busted by the cops. The backlash, though, has him changing his mind. He closed his post with this: "But now that I think about it..."