As soon as the polls closed, incumbent Gov. Chris Christie was declared the winner in his reelection bid in New Jersey. His margin will be huge, and he’ll likely be the first Republican to get more than 50 percent of the vote in the state since 1985.
Christie and tea party favorite Ken Cuccinelli II, who looks to be heading for a loss in Virginia, could not have been more different in their campaign approaches. Christie stressed bipartisanship and touted his state’s ability to avoid gridlock that has paralyzed Washington. He made no bones about his position on social issues (he is pro-life and opposed gay marriage but implemented the state Supreme Court decision to allow same-sex marriages to go forward), but they were minor, almost invisible issues in the election. And of course, Christie had something no other politician in the country has — the record of effectively and emphatically leading his state through a once-in-a-lifetime natural disaster. In New Jersey that was enough for a landslide.
Almost all political watchers expect Christie, if not immediately, to announce at some point his candidacy for president. The right wing has already gone to war with him, arguing he is some sort of big government moderate. So far, Christie’s record (tax cuts, balanced budget) doesn’t support that, but it is a narrative that will follow him if he runs in 2016. In an election night interview with Jake Tapper on CNN, Christie told the audience, “I’m a conservative, and I’ve governed as a conservative in this state. The difference [is] that I haven’t tried to hide it, or mask it as something different.”
In New Jersey Christie did what few Republicans are able to do these days — cut into Democrats’ key constituents (e.g. women, African Americans, moderates) while locking down the right. He won among women, got 20 percent of the African American vote and over 45 percent of the Hispanic vote, according to exit polls. No other Republican can boast of figures like that.
He did it by running against Washington dysfunction and on a tangible record in which he addressed needs of inner city voters (e.g. taking over the Camden school district) as well as suburban voters, pinched by past tax hikes. His ads and YouTube clips generally featured independents and Democrats. In New Jersey there was no one on the ballot to his right, a luxury he won’t enjoy in the primaries. Then his challenge will be to clean up among moderate Republicans, independents who vote in a GOP primary and enough conservatives to chip away at his opponents’ base. But, of course, that will be a multi-candidate race at least at the start, perhaps carving up ultra-conservative voters among a variety of right-wingers.
For now, however, Christie has the benefit of a big win, donor enthusiasm and fawning MSM coverage. He also has a test run for a presidential race under his belt that will get coverage from the New York and national media. In politics it is always better to win, and it is best to win big.