No Surprise: Chris Christie Re-elected As New Jersey Governor

By: CBS News (Posted by Melissa Brunner)
By: CBS News (Posted by Melissa Brunner)

CBS News - To call it a "race" is almost unfair.

As CBS News estimates Gov. Chris Christie, R-N.J., will be re-elected as New Jersey governor by a comfortable margin, virtually no one ever thought the outcome might be different. For months, Christie held a commanding lead as his Democratic challenger, state Sen. Barbara Buono, failed to get her campaign off the ground.

Christie will be re-elected with widespread support from men, women, independents, members of his own party, and even three in 10 Democrats, according to CBS News exit polls.

Christie's Democratic challenger, state Sen. Barbara Buono, won the votes of liberals, African-Americans, and young voters, but that was not nearly enough to stop Christie's pursuit of a second term.

In 2009, Christie defeated incumbent Democratic Governor Jon Corzine by just three points, but his margin of victory was far more substantial this time around. His support improved among nearly every demographic group.

Christie solidified his base winning near unanimous support from Republicans (92 percent) conservatives (85 percent), and tea party supporters (87 percent) but more importantly, he made inroads with some traditionally Democratic groups. Fifty-five percent of women cast their vote for Christie, a group he lost to Democrat Jon Corzine four years ago. And while Democrat Buono won the support of African Americans by a large margin, Christie managed to capture one in five black voters - doubling the level of support he received four years ago (9 percent).

Christie won the support of both independents and moderates. In 2009, he won moderates by just three points over Corzine, but he won them by 21 points this year.

Most New Jersey Democrats (67 percent) did support their party's candidate, but 31 percent of the state's Democrats crossed over and backed Christie, the Republican. A mere 8 percent of Democrats voted for Christie in 2009. His share of the vote also increased among lower income voters. Forty-four percent of voters in a union household backed Christie; up from 38 percent four years ago.

Christie's supporters were enthusiastic. Nearly seven in 10 of his voters strongly favored him, but that was the case for only 41 percent of Buono's supporters. In fact, three in 10 Buono voters said they had reservations about her and 26 percent supported her mostly because they disliked Christie.

In what is traditionally a blue state, Christie faced an electorate in which nearly two-thirds had an overall favorable opinion of him. Just four in 10 viewed Buono, the Democrat, favorably.

Voters were even more were impressed with Christie's handling of Superstorm Sandy last year, including three in four Democrats.

Interestingly, while Christie himself won high favorable ratings from the electorate, his party did not. More than half of New Jersey voters (58 percent) had an unfavorable opinion of the Republican party. Democrats were viewed more positively with 52 percent favorable. Most said they blame the Republicans for the recent federal government shutdown.

Regionally, Christie improved on his margins from four years ago in the suburban north, an area President Obama carried in both 2008 and 2012, as did Democrat Cory Booker last month. Christie also did better in Southern New Jersey. Buono did well in the Democratic stronghold in the urban north.

The economy was the issue most on the minds of voters today - 49 percent chose it as the issue most important in their vote, far ahead of taxes (22 percent) , education (15 percent) and same-sex marriage (6 percent). While 29 percent of New Jersey voters think the condition of the state's economy has improved from four years ago, just as many say it has gotten worse. Four in ten think it has stayed the same. Still, most voters approve of how Christie is handling the economy.

While Christie has expressed his personal opposition to same-sex marriage, he recently decided not to appeal a judge's ruling that permitted same-sex marriages in the state. Exit polls show strong support for same-sex marriage - six in 10 voters think it should be legal.

In the end, it was about securing a historically large landslide victory for a Republican governor in a blue state, and that he did. Christie capitalized on a seven-day, 90-stop bus tour that took him to every county in the state during the last week of his election.

Christie in 2016?
The real question coming out of Tuesday's election is what his margin of victory means for a potential 2016 presidential bid. This is a state that President Obama won by 17 points in the 2012 election and 15 points in 2008. Yet Christie, known for a more pragmatic brand of conservatism than many of the other potential 2016 candidates, easily bested Buono and was the first Republican to win the N.J. governor's office with more than 50 percent of the vote since Tom Kean in 1985.

Speculation is rampant about a Christie presidential run in 2016, and while 49 percent of New Jersey voters who cast ballots in the governor's race think he would make a good president, almost as many - 46 percent - don't think he will.

Despite his strong performance in this race, in a hypothetical 2016 match-up between Christie and Democrat Hillary Clinton, 43 percent say they would vote for Christie, but slightly more (50 percent) say they would back Clinton. The last time a Republican candidate for president carried New Jersey was in 1988 when George H.W. Bush defeated Michael Dukakis.

In this potential presidential match-up, most Republicans say they would back Christie and most Democrats would vote for Clinton. But only one in 10 New Jersey Democrats say they would support Christie if he ran for president. Independents split.

The day before voters went to the polls, the Quinnipiac polling institute showed Christie with the same two-to-one margin lead over Buono that he has held for months. The poll put his lead at 61 to 33 percent among likely voters, including 64 to 29 percent lead among independents and 30 percent among Democrats.

Because defeating Christie seemed like an insurmountable goal, outside Democratic and union-backed groups poured their money into the races for the state legislature in order to ensure that the Democratic body didn't see Christie gain any more supporters. According to the New York Times, as of last Thursday, more than $35 million in outside money had flowed into the state's races, more than twice what was spent when Christie was elected in 2009.

They had reason to worry. Christie had vocal, heated battles with unions, especially the teachers' union, for power in the state, which has won him praise from conservatives. But other actions have been have been less cut-and-dry in their party leanings. He was criticized by some Republicans for appearing with President Obama in the wake of Sandy, and last month he decided to drop an appeal of the state Supreme Court's decision to allow same-sex marriages.

He is distinctly different from Ken Cuccinelli, Virginia's attorney general who ran for governor in Virginia. Cuccinelli, a tea party favorite, hewed closely to conservative orthodoxy on both economics and social policy. Their styles are indicative of a larger divide about the future of the GOP, which is sure to drag out because of Christie's victory.

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