Monday, September 22, 2014
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Christie wins reelection

ASBURY PARK - Gov. Christie, who wooed New Jersey with candor, humor and gruffness and then cemented broad support with a willingness to cross party lines after Sandy, cruised to a landslide reelection victory Tuesday on the way to what his constituents believe is an inevitable campaign for the presidency in 2016.

Christie wins reelection

Republican New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie celebrates his election victory in Asbury Park, N.J., Tuesday, Nov. 5, 2013, after defeating Democratic challenger Barbara Buono. (AP Photo/Mel Evans)
Republican New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie celebrates his election victory in Asbury Park, N.J., Tuesday, Nov. 5, 2013, after defeating Democratic challenger Barbara Buono. (AP Photo/Mel Evans)

By Matt Katz

ASBURY PARK — Gov. Christie, who wooed New Jersey with candor, humor and gruffness and then cemented broad support with a willingness to cross party lines after Sandy, cruised to a landslide reelection victory Tuesday on the way to what his constituents believe is an inevitable campaign for the presidency in 2016.

Moments after CNN called the race just after 8 pm, a roar went up from the crowd at the historic Asbury Park Convention Hall, where the Christie victory celebration is taking place.

The Republican, who governed this Democratic-leaning state as a pragmatic conservative over his four years in office, was on pace to win a larger percentage of the vote than any statewide Republican candidate in 28 years.

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Christie turned back a longtime state Democratic legislator from Middlesex County, Barbara Buono, who lacked support from her own party, top to bottom. President Obama never uttered her name in public and the Washington-based Democratic Party didn’t fund-raise on her behalf, while in New Jersey more than 60 elected Democrats and even party bosses publicly endorsed Christie.

Christie had an easy time defining Buono as a throwback to former Gov. Jon S. Corzine, the man he defeated in 2009, and he highlighted her 154 votes in the Legislature that led to tax or fee increases.

An unabashed liberal, Buono sought to portray Christie as beholden to the tea party and his own political future. And New Jerseyans actually agreed with her on the issues: Polls show they support gay marriage and an increase in the minimum wage, unlike Christie, and they thought the governor did a poor job handling their top concern, rising property taxes.

But on Election Day voters affirmed the draw of Christie’s personality, the power of his leadership skills and the sense that with Christie behind the wheel, everyone would make it down the Turnpike just fine. It is that sense of confidence, coupled with the belief that he doesn’t suffer the partisan fools of Washington, that Christie could use to catapult to national office.

Buono got into the race even as several more well-known and well-heeled Democratic men backed away after Sandy last year, when Christie’s approval ratings skyrocketed. In the end she was able to afford only two television ads, to put two ads on TVcompared to Christie’s 16.

Buono sold a hardscrabble story on the campaign trail — of a father who died young, of losing her first apartment in a fire, of briefly living on food stamps — but her from-the-bootstraps story never caught on with voters beyond a base of loyal Democrats. 

Lyndon Alfred, 48, of Burlington Township, is a Democrat who voted for Democrat Cory Booker for the Senate but switched sides to support Christie.

“He’s doing the job for the people. He’s not doing it for Republicans or Democrats. … He doesn’t care if the Republicans are mad at him,” he said.

Presidential speculation swirled around Election Day. A CNN correspondent shadowed him throughout the day, giving the governor an opportunity to knock Obama about the rollout of Obamacare (“don’t be so cute — and, when you make a mistake, admit it”). He called himself a “conservative,” but potential 2016 rival Sen. Rand Paul (R., Ky.) appeared hours later on CNN and pointedly called Christie a “moderate” — twice.

Voters sensed the presidential buzz, and they bought Christie’s argument that his leadership contrasted with that in Washington.

At a firehouse in Woodbury, Dot DeLoof, 68, described herself as a “left-wing liberal Democrat.” “But I voted for Christie,” she said.

Christie appealed to her, she said, because he works with Democrats but also “is hard-nosed about what he wants.”

“It’s not like down in Washington,” DeLoof said. “I think those people should be taken out and shot.”

The first step toward a Christie presidential run in 2016 is for Christie to assume the chairmanship of the Republican Governors Association, as he’s expected to do in a few weeks. From that perch Christie will travel the country, building relationships with possible donors as he campaigns for more than 30 Republican gubernatorial candidates next year.

In running for president, Christie would tap many of the same themes he evoked in this campaign — including Sandy.

Christie’s Republican presidential opponents will be senators, congressional representatives and governors, but few, if any, have a Sandy on their resumes. The storm forced Christie to manage a crisis — a key presidential requirement — and he was lauded for partnering with Obama, who was six days before the presidential election.

Even Buono refrained from criticizing Christie for his initial response to the storm. Instead she harped on Christie about the longer-term recovery — for failing to be transparent enough in how federal aid is being distributed, for giving contracts to politically connected firms, and for starring in taxpayer-funded post-storm tourism ads.

But those criticisms never helped Buono crack into Christie’s lead.

Buono got into the race even as several more well-known and well-heeled Democratic men backed away after Sandy last year, when Christie’s approval ratings skyrocketed. In the end she was able to afford only two television ads, compared to Christie’s 16.

Buono sold a hardscrabble story on the campaign trail — of a father who died young, of losing her first apartment in a fire, of briefly living on food stamps — but her from-the-bootstraps story never caught on with voters beyond a base of loyal Democrats.

Instead, voters were drawn by Christie’s message of bipartisanship, which seemed all the more relevant as an impasse between the parties led the government to shut down in October.

Against the tide of seeming invincibility, there were pockets of voters determined to send Christie another message.

“I want somebody to give him a run for his money, to let him know he is not the glorified person he thinks he is,” said a 70-year-old woman voting at the North Main Street School in Pleasantville, just outside Atlantic City. She said she split her vote otherwise between Democrats and Republicans but cast a defiant vote for Buono. “I want a woman to take him down a few notches.”

Christie’s game plan throughout the election was to appeal to traditional Democratic constituencies, and polls showed he was on pace to win as much as half of the votes from Latinos, a third from African Americans and more than a quarter of Democrats. He aired a Spanish-language TV ad and a commercial starring Shaquille O’Neal.

Christie also targeted urban voters. Voters in cities like Camden are heavily Democratic, but Christie spent a lot of time there in recent months while Buono did not. That didn’t sway all voters — one said she opposed him because he cut property tax rebates, while another voted for Buono to punish him for cutting pension benefits for public workers. Yet more than a handful interviewed in East Camden on Tuesday were pulling the lever for Christie.

“He likes to compromise between the parties,” said Jimmy Guigliotti, a Christie voter in Camden. “We have to get together, otherwise we don’t get anywhere.”

“And,” Guigliotti added, “he could be president.”

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