Christie reelected in a landslide

"If we can do this in Trenton, N.J.," Gov. Christie said, "maybe the folks in Washington, D.C., should tune in their TVs right now."
"If we can do this in Trenton, N.J.," Gov. Christie said, "maybe the folks in Washington, D.C., should tune in their TVs right now." (MEL EVANS / AP)
Posted: November 07, 2013

ASBURY PARK, N.J. - Gov. Christie, who wooed New Jersey with candor, humor, and gruffness and then cemented broad support with a willingness to cross party lines after Sandy, cruised to a landslide reelection victory Tuesday on the way to what his constituents say is an inevitable campaign for the presidency in 2016.

The Republican, who governed this Democratic-leaning state as a pragmatic conservative over his first four years in office, won the largest share of the vote of any statewide Republican candidate in 28 years, with exit polls showing he increased his support from minorities, women, and Democrats from when he was first elected in 2009.

"If we can do this in Trenton, N.J., maybe the folks in Washington, D.C., should tune in their TVs right now," Christie said to a national audience on cable and hundreds at a victory celebration at the historic Asbury Park Convention Hall.

He later added: "I know that a dispirited America, angry with their dysfunctional government, looks to New Jersey to say: 'Is what I think really happening? Are people really coming together? Are we really - African Americans and Hispanics, suburbanites and city dwellers, farmers and teachers - are we really all working together?"

Christie turned back a longtime state Democratic legislator from Middlesex County, Barbara Buono, who lacked support from her own party, top to bottom. President Obama never uttered her name in public and the Washington-based Democratic Party did not raise money on her behalf, while in New Jersey, more than 60 elected Democrats and even party bosses endorsed Christie.

The governor had an easy time defining Buono as a throwback to former Gov. Jon S. Corzine, the man he defeated in 2009, and he highlighted her 154 legislative votes that led to tax or fee increases.

An unabashed liberal, Buono sought to portray Christie as beholden to the tea party and his own political future. New Jerseyans actually agreed with her on many issues: Polls show they, unlike Christie, support same-sex marriage and an increase in the minimum wage, and they thought the governor did a poor job handling their top concern, rising property taxes.

But on Election Day, voters affirmed the draw of Christie's personality, the power of his leadership skills, and the sense that with Christie behind the wheel, everyone would make it down the Turnpike just fine. It is that sense of confidence, coupled with the belief he does not suffer Washington's partisan fools, that could catapult Christie to national office.

Buono got into the race even as several better-known and well-heeled Democratic men backed away last year after Sandy, when Christie's approval ratings skyrocketed. In the end she was able to afford only two television ads, compared to Christie's 16.

Buono used her concession speech in her hometown of Metuchen to excoriate the Democratic bosses who did not support her, describing an "onslaught of betrayal from our own political party."

"The Democratic political bosses, some elected, and some not, made a deal with this governor, despite him representing everything they are supposed to be against," Buono said.

After she began her remarks by saying that both she and Christie are "just two parents who want to see the best for our children's future," she went on to attack his policies.

Buono sold a hardscrabble story on the campaign trail - of a father who died young, of losing her first apartment in a fire, of briefly living on food stamps - but she never caught on with voters beyond a base of loyal Democrats.

Lyndon Alfred, 48, of Burlington Township, voted for Democrat Cory Booker for U.S. Senate but switched sides to support Christie.

"He's doing the job for the people. He's not doing it for Republicans or Democrats. . . . He doesn't care if the Republicans are mad at him," he said.

Presidential speculation swirled around Election Day. A CNN correspondent shadowed Christie throughout the day, giving the governor an opportunity to knock Obama about the rollout of Obamacare ("Don't be so cute - and, when you make a mistake, admit it.") He called himself a "conservative," but one potential 2016 rival, Sen. Rand Paul (R., Ky.), appeared hours later on CNN and pointedly called Christie a "moderate" - twice.

At a firehouse in Woodbury, Dot DeLoof, 68, who called herself a "left-wing liberal Democrat," voted for Christie. He appealed to her, she said, because he works with Democrats, but also "is hard-nosed about what he wants."

"It's not like down in Washington," DeLoof said. "I think those people should be taken out and shot."

Voters were drawn by Christie's message of bipartisanship and his image of leadership after Sandy.

"My pledge to you tonight is I will govern with the spirit of Sandy," Christie told the cheering crowd Tuesday.

He later added that, because of Sandy, leading New Jersey "is no longer a job, it's a mission."

That mission may be aborted early, though, if Christie resigns to run for president. In that case, his running mate, Lt. Gov. Guadagno, would take over the state. Guadagno did not appear on the stage Tuesday night.

The first step toward a 2016 presidential run is for Christie to assume chairmanship of the Republican Governors Association, as he is expected to do in a few weeks. From that perch Christie will travel the country, building relationships with possible donors as he campaigns for more than 30 Republican gubernatorial candidates next year.

In running for president, Christie would tap many of the same themes he evoked in this campaign, beginning with Sandy. Christie's Republican presidential opponents will be senators, congressional representatives and governors, but few, if any, have a Sandy on their resume. The storm forced Christie to manage a crisis - a key presidential requirement - and he was lauded for working with Obama six days before the presidential election.

Against the tide of seeming invincibility, there were pockets of voters determined to send Christie another message.

"I want somebody to give him a run for his money, to let him know he is not the glorified person he thinks he is," said a 70-year-old woman voting at the North Main Street School in Pleasantville, just outside Atlantic City. "I want a woman to take him down a few notches."

Yet Christie ended up winning the female vote, along with a range of traditional Democratic constituencies. New York Times exit polls projected him winning 21 percent of blacks, nearly a third of Democrats, and more than half of Hispanics. Targeting these groups as a template for winning a 2016 presidential campaign was seen as part of the Christie game plan. He aired ads in Spanish and another starring Shaquille O'Neal.

Christie spent a lot of time in recent weeks in cities including Camden, while Buono did not. And although most voters interviewed in Camden were supporting Buono - one said she opposed Christie because he cut property tax rebates, while another was angry that he cut pension benefits - a handful backed the governor.

"He likes to compromise between the parties," Jimmy Guigliotti said. "We have to get together, otherwise we don't get anywhere."

"And," Guigliotti added, "he could be president."

609-217-8355 @mattkatz00

Staff writers Andrew Seidman, Amy Rosenberg, and Michaelle Bond contributed to this article.

comments powered by Disqus