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.
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.
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.
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."
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.