Image: Christie Challenges Incumbent Gov. Corzine In Jersey's Gubernatorial Race
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Republican Chris Christie, a 47-year-old former federal prosecutor, became the first member of his party in a dozen years to win a statewide contest in heavily Democratic New Jersey.
updated 11/4/2009 11:20:41 AM ET 2009-11-04T16:20:41

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, its highest-in-the-nation property taxes and even Christie's weight.

Christie, 47, became the first member of his party in a dozen years to win a statewide contest in heavily Democratic New Jersey.

"Tomorrow, starting tomorrow, we are going to pick Trenton up and turn it upside down," Christie said in his acceptance speech in Parsippany in front of cheering supporters.

President Barack Obama invested heavily in the race, campaigning with Corzine five times on three separate visits. A Republican captured the only other governor's race in the country, in Virginia, a troubling sign for Obama heading into next year's midterm elections.

With 97 percent of precincts reporting, Christie had 49 percent of the vote compared to 44 percent for Corzine. Independent candidate Chris Daggett, who at one point had been feared as a potential spoiler, had about 5 percent.

Smooth transition
Daggett may have cut into Corzine's base. Two-thirds of Daggett voters approved of Obama, suggesting they were more likely to lean Democratic, according to an Associated Press exit poll.

Video: GOP chief strikes Heisman pose Corzine said he called Christie just before 11 p.m. Tuesday "and congratulated him on becoming New Jersey's next governor."

He pledged to work with Christie to ensure a smooth transition.

Christie accepted public financing in the race against the wealthy incumbent and was outspent $23 million to $11 million. He did get financial help from the Republican Governors Association and other national Republican groups, which bought television time in the pricey New York and Philadelphia media markets.

Christie ran on a platform of smaller government and relentlessly criticized Corzine for what he called poor economic stewardship. State unemployment was at 9.8 percent in October and property taxes averaged $7,045 per household, the nation's highest.

But he was criticized during the campaign for remaining vague about how he would solve New Jersey's chronic fiscal problems.

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Christie, who has acknowledged struggling with his weight, endured an onslaught of personal attacks from the Corzine campaign; his weight even became a central issue at one point.

Many voters expressed dissatisfaction with all the candidates, saying they were disappointed with Corzine, unsure Christie would do better and unconvinced Daggett could win.

‘I'm tired of the Democrats’
Craig Royer, 46, of Woodbridge in central New Jersey, typified voters' discontent.

"I'm tired of the Democrats," Royer said. "I voted for Chris Christie because he's not Jon Corzine."

Video: Republicans win Va., N.J. governor races Augusta Przygoda, who said she became a Republican after she moved to Hoboken in 1970, said she was confident Christie would lower the state's sales tax as one of his first official acts. She also praised the GOP candidate's record as U.S. attorney.

"I admire how he cleaned up New Jersey, or at least tried to," she said. "It still needs cleaning up, but no one else seems to have the courage to do it."

Christie made a reputation for himself by locking up 130 officials without losing a single corruption case.

However, his image as an ethics champion was questioned when revelations emerged that he had lent a subordinate money but failed to report it, and that he'd been involved in a traffic accident but was not ticketed.

In the final days of the campaign, while Corzine was campaigning with Obama and former President Bill Clinton, Christie hit all 21 counties aboard a bus, campaigning with New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani and former New Jersey Gov. Tom Kean.

Rep. Joe Wilson of South Carolina, who was sharply criticized when he yelled, "You lie," during Obama's health care speech to a joint session of Congress, stumped for Christie in the campaign's final weekend.

The exit poll of 2,169 New Jersey voters was conducted for the AP by Edison Research in a random sample of 40 precincts statewide.

Results were subject to sampling error of plus or minus 3 percentage points, higher for subgroups.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Video: Is election a referendum on Obama?

  1. Closed captioning of: Is election a referendum on Obama?

    >> chuck todd , thank you very much. david gregory is moderator of "meet the press." good morning to you, david.

    >> good morning, meredith.

    >> as chuck just reported, the president did stump for the two losing gubernatorial candidates in new jersey and virginia . republicans are saying this morning it is a repudiation of the president's administration. fair statement or overstated?

    >> well, probably unfair when it comes to a repudiation of the president himself, because his own approval numbers in new jersey and virginia are still quite high. but as chuck points out, it's the obama coalition that was so successful in 2008 that did not show up -- independent voters, younger voters, african-american voters. that was part of a unique coalition that he put together for his presidency. this anti-incumbency mood is significant. it says that that change message that obama carried on to victory is still holding true, but now it's being used against democratic incumbents.

    >> yeah, you mentioned the independents. and as you pointed out, they went heavily for obama in 2008 . this time they went with the republicans. so, what is the lesson that both the republicans and democrats should take away from that?

    >> well, again, it's the anti anti -incumbency mood, it's the fact that there's less trust of government, that there's a disaffection with both parties, which is why i think this new york 23 race is important, because it's a fight between conservatives and moderates in the republican party . for republicans, they make the argument here that the independent wave is part of a different atmosphere, that there's concern about the debt or health care . some of obama 's policies, some of the democratic policies. that's the message that they hope to build on and they will try to nationalize that message today and going forward.

    >> let's talk a little bit about the congressional race in the 23rd district in new york . it sort of pointed out the descension within the republican party between the moderates and those that are far more conservative. in the end, it was the democrat who won that particular race, so how does the outcome of that race factor into national politics?

    >> there's still going to be a big fight in the republican party about what the party should be. should it be a more conservative party that gets back to its smaller government days or should it be a moderate party that can change some positions to get more independent voters to expand that coalition? what's striking is you have the results in new york 23, which democrats will hold up as a great result for them, but then you have mcdonnell winning in virginia , a purple state . he's a social conservative for his political career, yet runs more as a pragmatist, a centrist and wins big among independent voters. that dynamic within the republican party , that fight about what it wants to be is going to go on.

    >> midterm elections next year, do you think that legislators will be looking at the results from last night and recalculating how they're going to come down on tough issues like health care reform ?

    >> it's going to be a real fear within the white house that those moderate democrats are going to now find it more difficult to cast a difficult vote on health care that could increase the deficit, that may be unpopular with key parts of their constituencies as they face voters next year. that's something that the president's going to have to really work on.

    >> all right. david gregory , thank you very much.

    >> thanks, meredith.

    >> it is 7:08. for more, here's matt.

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