New Jersey Governor Chris Christie easily won re-election Tuesday over Democrat Barbara Buono, launching the GOP star to another term in a deep-blue state and solidifying his status as a top-tier 2016 presidential candidate.
In a victory speech brimming with the cadence and optimistic rhetoric of a future presidential stump speech, Christie celebrated his “big, big win” and suggested that his administration’s message of inclusion could offer lessons to the federal government.
"I know that if we can do this in Trenton, N.J., maybe the folks in Washington, D.C., should tune in their TVs right now and see how it’s done," he said to an eruption of cheers from supporters.
"Tonight, a dispirited America, angry with their dysfunctional government in Washington, looks to New Jersey to say 'Is what I think happening really happening? Are people really coming together?'" he added.
With nearly 90 percent of the vote in, Christie held a definitive 60 percent to 38 percent lead over Buono.
Exit polls showed that he had garnered the support of voters well outside the traditional GOP base, winning a majority of women, about one-in-five black voters, half of Hispanics, and roughly 30 percent of self-described Democrats. Among the half of New Jersey voters who say they support the Obama-backed health care law, about three-in-10 selected Christie on their ballot.
Christie earned broad bipartisan support for his response to last year’s Superstorm Sandy and is known for his blunt political style.
Christie invoked the state’s resolve and unity in the wake of that storm Tuesday night, promising supporters he would “govern in the spirit of Sandy.”
Even while delivering a sweeping speech with frequent references to dysfunction in Washington, Christie pledged to keep working for the state that made him “the luckiest guy in the world.”
“I sought a second term to finish the job,” he said. “Now watch me do it."
Christie has developed a strong national profile since he defeated unpopular Democratic incumbent Jon Corzine in 2010.
With broad support among groups the GOP has struggled with in recent national elections – women, independents, minorities and even conservative Democrats – Christie would head into 2016 with potential electability in states where the outlook for the GOP has traditionally been bleak.
(President Barack Obama defeated GOP nominee Mitt Romney in New Jersey by 17 points in 2012.)
In a statement, Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus lauded Christie's "significant support among minority voters," calling it "a testament to the success of his results-oriented leadership and an inclusive campaign."
Yet the same characteristics and positions that earned Christie support from a significant portion of the state’s Democrats have made some national conservatives wary.
The latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll found that while Christie is viewed positively by most self-described conservatives, firebrand Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas – known for eschewing bipartisan compromise – earned notably higher marks from the GOP’s right flank.
Since the party’s more conservative wing plays a huge role in early nominating states like Iowa and South Carolina, Christie could face tough decisions on how to court the Tea Party without losing his centrist appeal. One particular episode from Christie’s first term is unlikely to fade from any primary campaign – his public embrace of Obama in the immediate aftermath of Sandy.
For now, his first hurdle – re-election – was easily cleared. Without statewide name recognition, Buono had little chance of competing with Christie’s fundraising ability and his stratospheric approval ratings, which remained high long after the superstorm battered the state.
Polls this week showed that almost one-in-four likely voters said they don’t know enough about the Democratic candidate to form an opinion.
In remarks after the race was called for Christie, Buono congratulated the governor on his win and told Democratic supporters they "withstood the onslaught of betrayal from our own political party.”
Buono, who consistently trailed in polls by double digits, received comparatively little high-profile support from national Democrats during her campaign, unlike Democrat Terry McAuliffe in Virginia’s more hotly contested gubernatorial contest.
“Let us never look back with regret. Let us not for a single moment allow one night to define what we did here or to deter us from the momentum that we have built,” she said in her remarks. “There is so much work to do.”