Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey won re-election by a crushing margin Tuesday, a victory that vaulted him to the front ranks of Republican presidential contenders and made him his party’s foremost proponent of pragmatism over ideology.
Opponent Barbara Buono conceded the race shortly after the polls closed and after Christie was surging ahead by a margin of 60.5 percent to 38 percent.
In a state where Democrats outnumber Republicans by more than 700,000, Christie won decisively, making impressive inroads among younger voters, blacks, Hispanics and women – groups that Republicans nationally have struggled to attract.
The governor prevailed despite holding positions contrary to those of many people in New Jersey on many issues, including same-sex marriage, abortion rights and the minimum wage, and despite an economic recovery that has trailed the rest of the country.
Christie attracted a broad coalition by campaigning as a decisive, even swaggering, leader who could reach across the aisle to solve problems, unlike the bickering politicians of Washington.
While Christie’s victory four years ago was unexpected, this one had not been in question since he seized the spotlight after Superstorm Sandy, a disaster perfectly suited to his hands-on and emotive executive style.
The swell of national attention only grew in the final hours before Election Day, as network cameras filmed his every move – he had a CNN microphone clipped to his tie as he campaigned Tuesday morning at the Peterpank Diner in central New Jersey.
In the final days, Christie’s campaign bus had been swarmed by admirers snapping smartphone pictures and seeking autographs on photos of the governor at the White House, on the cover of Time magazine, and even with his wife, Mary Pat, on their wedding day.
Republicans panicked by the surge in activist support for the rabble-rousing tea party wing represented by Sens. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and Rand Paul, R-Ky., were cheered by Christie’s success, saying they hope the party will learn not only from the size of Christie’s margin over Buono, a Democratic state senator, but also from the makeup of his support.
“We’ll be led back by our governors, and Chris Christie is now at the forefront of that resurgence,” said Ed Gillespie, a former chairman of the Republican National Committee. “He’s proved that a conservative Republican can get votes from Hispanics and African-Americans, that a pro-life governor can get votes from women. This means that those voters are available to us, that we’re not shut out demographically or geographically – that it’s worth the effort.”
Christie’s strategy and message of bipartisanship deliberately echoed that of another Republican governor who seized the White House after eight years of Democratic control and Republican civil war: George W. Bush.
His national profile will only increase later this month as he takes over as head of the Republican Governors Association. That position gives him sway over which state races the party chooses to spend money on, allowing him to rack up favors with other Republican politicians and create relationships with local leaders in key presidential states.
Tuesday morning, well before polls closed on his re-election, Christie said he would appear frequently in “places like Ohio and Michigan and Florida,” all states with Republican governors up for re-election next year, and he offered that he was also willing to help Republican incumbents in Iowa and South Carolina, states that appear early on the presidential campaign calendar.
Christie has also told South Carolina Republicans that he wants to help Sen. Lindsey O. Graham, R-S.C., who is facing a conservative primary challenge next year.