New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a Republican, glided to reelection over his Democratic challenger, state Sen. Barbara Buono, tonight. About an hour after the polls closed, election officials called the race for the incumbent. Christie, a likely presidential candidate in 2016, did particularly well with demographics the Republican party has struggled to attract: Hispanics and women.
Christie also did well in just about every other demographic, a phenomenon in a historically Democratic state which has only grown more Democratic recently. His approval numbers, especially since Superstorm Sandy hit about a year ago, have been stratospheric. And Christie benefited from the power of his office: Everyone, not just in New Jersey but in the surrounding states too, saw the television tourism ads New Jersey aired, titled “We’re Stronger than the Storm.” They featured a catchy jingle and Christie as a main figure.
The results are more striking because unlike many northeastern Republicans, Christie is a social conservative. He is pro-life—he cut state funding for Planned Parenthood and repeatedly vetoed bills to reinstate it. He is pro-traditional marriage, though in signing a bill that banned gay conversion therapy for minors, he said he thought people were born gay and thus he didn’t believe homosexuality was a sin. But he continues to oppose gay marriage and vetoed a bill legalizing same-sex marriage last year. He recently dropped the state’s appeal of a judge’s decision legalizing gay marriage. Christie defended the move as purely practical, because the state Supreme Court had already allowed gay marriages to go forward and had indicated the state would lose again on appeal.
But Sandy has defined his last year in office. The blue fleece he wore constantly through the storm’s aftermath became famous, inspiring its own Saturday Night Live skit. The storm hit on the eve of the presidential election last year, and some Republicans criticized Christie for being so chummy with President Barack Obama when he came to visit devastated communities. Christie, in his hardboiled manner, said he was looking out for his state and taking any federal help he could get. The encounter may have hurt Mitt Romney’s presidential aspirations, but made Christie look bipartisan.
Today any warm feelings between Christie and Obama have dissipated. David Axelrod, former top adviser to Obama, on Tuesday even made a jab about Christie’s weight on Twitter: “Ever see a large man shot from a can[n]on? Watch Jersey launch tonight, of @GovChristie boomlet. But will he have place to land in this GOP?”
During his next term, Christie likely will have to continue working with a Democratic legislature. To this point, he’s focused on reforming teachers’ unions and cutting spending. Outside Democratic groups flooded the legislative races this year with money—$35 million, according to the state elections board—twice the amount they spent in the 2009 race.
On the campaign trail, Christie hasn’t denied that he might run for higher office in 2016 but says he is focused on his current job.
“I can walk and chew gum at the same time,” he said in October.