In New Jersey, Christie beats incumbent Corzine in governor's race

Republican Chris Christie, a former corruption-busting prosecutor, unseated the deep-pocketed but unpopular Gov. Jon Corzine on Tuesday in a bruising contest that focused on New Jersey's ailing economy.
By Karl Vick
Washington Post staff writer
Wednesday, November 4, 2009; 11:33 AM

EAST BRUNSWICK, N.J. -- Republican Chris Christie, who decisively defeated incumbent Democrat Jon S. Corzine Tuesday to become New Jersey's next governor, said he was prepared to face the economic turmoil that propelled him to victory and soon will be first on the list of state problems he hopes to solve.

"We're in a crisis," Christie told jubilant supporters after accepting Corzine's concession call Tuesday night. "The times are extraordinarily difficult. But I stand here tonight full of hope for our future, full of expectations and dreams, not only for my children, but for all the children of New Jersey."

Christie, a former U.S. attorney who also made fighting corruption in state politics a theme of his campaign, finished with 48.8 percent of the vote to Corzine's 44.6, a margin of almost 100,000 votes with 99 percent of precincts reported. It was a powerful Republican victory in a state that President Obama carried a year ago by 15 points, and where Christie was outspent by perhaps 3 to 1.

The challenger rode a wave of voter outrage over taxes -- among the highest in the nation -- and the recession. Christie led Corzine in polls through the summer by as much as 20 points. The race tightened this fall with a surge for a third-party candidate, Chris Daggett, who Democrats hoped would split the anti-Corzine vote. But Daggett's showing on Election Day was a feeble 5 percent, while turnout was stronger than expected in Republican strongholds.

No Republican has won statewide office in New Jersey in more than a decade. Exit polling showed that voters who describe themselves as independent voted 2 to 1 for Christie.

As a candidate, Corzine dipped into the personal fortune he accumulated on Wall Street, repeating the pattern that won him a U.S. Senate seat in 2000 and the governor's office four years ago. Most of the $23 million he had spent through late October bought attack ads that drew attention to Christie's record of support for President George W. Bush, his record as U.S. attorney and even his weight.

Christie, whose campaign spent $8.8 million, cast the contest as a referendum on Corzine, who campaigned four years ago as a liberal with a reputation of financial competence he had earned as a managing partner of Goldman Sachs.

"The campaign we just went through will seem easy compared to the tasks that lie ahead of us to fix this state," Christie told supporters in Parsippany once the outcome was known. He called his election a repudiation of negative campaigning and of the political culture of Trenton, a capital he vowed "to turn upside down."

Corzine conceded just before 11 p.m. in East Brunswick, telling supporters that he was proud of his administration and saying that he had called Christie to congratulate him.

"Mr. Christie was gracious in his response and we will work hard together to make sure the transition is smooth," Corzine said. "It has been an incredible, incredible journey together and I am grateful to all New Jerseyans."

The incumbent was saddled with approval ratings in the low 30s and fallout for the financial downturn that had him cutting the state budget and reneging on a vow to reduce property taxes for most residents. New Jersey voters leaving polling places Tuesday ranked the issues as their top priorities. Corruption ranked third, an indicator of support for Christie, who trumpeted his record of prosecuting public officials.

Daggett, a former Environmental Protection Agency official who describes himself as a "policy wonk," drew as much as 20 percent in pre-election surveys, but it was unclear before Tuesday how many voters would cast ballots for him -- or even be able to find him on the ballot, which differs across the state.

"I found my name," Daggett said after emerging from a Basking Ridge polling booth. "I practiced on the sample ballot."

Going into Tuesday, many analysts said Corzine's ceiling was about 40 percent of the vote, and anything beyond 10 percent for Daggett would significantly help Corzine win another four years in Trenton.

"If he's under 6 percent," John Weingart, associate director of Rutgers University's Eagleton Institute of Politics, said before the results were known, "that's probably good for Christie."

Turnout was the other variable. President Obama came to New Jersey three times in the past week to urge voters to come out for "my partner." Neighborhoods near downtown Newark were speckled with the blue-and-white fliers and handouts indicating a widespread get-out-the-vote effort.

Democrats hoped to see many of the 800,000 new voters who swelled Obama's totals, but the night belonged to the GOP. "In the face of a $30 million onslaught that consisted almost exclusively of negative personal attacks," Christie said, "the people of New Jersey decided enough is enough."

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