Republican governor re-elected by landslide in New Jersey
Chris Christie propelled into favourite position for 2016 presidential candidacy
New Jersey’s Republican governor Chris Christie was re-elected by a landslide in a traditionally Democratic state, propelling him as a favourite for the Republican presidential candidacy in 2016.
In the two other key battles of the off-year elections, Bill de Blasio won emphatically to become the first Democratic mayor of New York to be elected since 1989, while Democrat Terry McAuliffe, a veteran Democratic fundraiser for the Clintons, was elected governor of Virginia, a swing state, in an unexpectedly close race.
The New Jersey and Virginia elections were closely watched as indicators for the future direction of the Republican Party after last month’s government shutdown was blamed on the party and revealed sharp divisions between the party’s traditional support among businesses and the far-right Tea Party faction.
Mr Christie, a moderate conservative relative to the hardline Republicans, defeated little-known Democratic candidate Barbara Buono with more than 60 per cent of the vote, making strong gains among women and Hispanic voters in a state where Democrats outrank Republicans by more than 700,000 voters.
The size of his re-election victory in a Democratic-leaning state strengthens the hand of moderate conservative Republicans against the more hard-core elements within the party and makes Mr Christie a compelling candidate if the Republicans are to attract wider support to regain the White House.
The governor, whose popularity soared over his hands-on response to the devastation caused to Jersey coastline by Superstorm Sandy last year, used his victory speech to present himself as a unifying force who can find common ground between opponents when US national party politics is so deeply polarised.
After the bitter fight between Democrats and Republicans in the aftermath of the government shutdown and the internal divisions within the Republican Party, Mr Christie spoke about “bringing people around the table” and “showing respect” for rivals to find compromise.
“Leadership is much less about talking than it is about listening,” he said.
Speaking to supporters at the Asbury Park Convention Hall on the Jersey Shore, Mr Christie said that if opponents could be brought together in New Jersey, maybe Washington DC could follow suit.
“I know that if we can do this in Trenton, New Jersey, maybe the folks in Washington should tune into their TV sets,” he said.
“I know tonight, a dispirited America angry with their dysfunctional government in Washington will look to New Jersey and say: ‘Is what I think is happening really happening? Are people coming together.’”
During his speech he invoked the “spirit of Sandy” which brought political rivals and people of different colour together, saying that he would not let “any political party, any government entity” get between him and his mission to rebuild New Jersey after the storm.
While opposed to his views on same-sex marriage, abortion rights and the minimum wage, New Jersey voters were attracted to Mr Christie’s bipartisan negotiating skills and decisive leadership style.
In a blow to the Tea Party, Mr McAuliffe, a former presidential campaign manager to the Clintons, defeated staunch conservative Ken Cuccinelli, the Republican attorney general, by a margin of just over 47 per cent to 46 per cent to become governor of a state that voted twice for President Obama and George W Bush.
Mr Cuccinelli’s anti-abortion views divided voters, while Mr McAuliffe’s strong campaigning for gun restrictions, abortion rights and same-sex marriage showed how far this once Republican stronghold has shifted towards the Democratic Party. Mr Cuccinelli was also significantly outspent by his rival in the fundraising stakes.
The Republican candidate had sought the support of Tea Party hardliners, while Mr McAuliffe linked Mr Cuccinelli to the government shutdown caused by the Republicans in Washington DC, where many Virginia residents work.
De Blasio, the city’s public advocate, converted his commanding lead over Republican Joe Lhota, a senior official in mayor Michael Bloomberg’s administration, in opinion polls in the New York mayoral election.
After campaigning for higher taxes for the wealthiest residents of America’s most populated city, Mr De Blasio told supporters in his victory speech that inequality was “the defining issue of our times.”
There was also a significant Irish victory in the US municipal elections as Massachusetts state congressman Marty Walsh, the son of immigrant parents from Galway, was elected mayor of Boston.
In a further sign of moderation among Republicans, Bradley Byrne, a lawyer and former state senator, saw off a Tea Party challenger for a House of Representatives seat in a deeply conservative district in Alabama.
The state elections are an important indicator of support for the parties ahead of Americans voting in the 2014 midterm elections to decide the make-up of the House of Representatives and a third of the Senate.
Mr Christie’s popularity among Democrat voters in New Jersey makes him a clear contender for the Republican Party two years later in the 2016 presidential race because of his broad appeal.
About 1,500 people gathered in the hall on the Jersey Shore that was bathed in a purple wash, a symbolic colour given the victory of a Republican red candidate in a traditionally Democratic blue state.
When a supporter in the crowd shouted out, “Chris Christie for President!” the two-time Republican governor responded quickly: “I guess there is an open bar tonight? Welcome to New Jersey.”
One supporter, Charlie Wilkes (29), a lawyer from Jersey City, said Christie’s victory shows the New Jersey governor can communicate conservative values without “over-reaching” like others in the party.
“He can clearly articulate the conservative vision without alienating a large part of the population,” he said. “After eight years of Obama, Republicans will want someone who can reach out and show they can win.”