Now the bad news for Chris Christie: He must actually try to govern New Jersey.
Congratulations to Christie, a Republican and former federal prosecutor who scored an impressive victory on Election Day over Democratic Gov. Corzine. Even with third-party candidate Chris Daggett in the race, the outcome really wasn’t close.
Christie was outspent by the wealthy incumbent in a heavily Democratic state. But he persuaded voters that he’ll do a better job making New Jersey more affordable and prosperous.
Exactly how he plans to do that, Christie was not willing to share with voters during the campaign. He promised to cut spending (something that Corzine actually did). But it won’t be enough to balance a budget with a projected shortfall of at least $8 billion.
Restoring property-tax rebates? Perhaps a fraction in his first year, Christie said, when he figures out how much the state can afford.
Income-tax cuts? Only for the wealthiest New Jerseyans in his first year, Christie said. He wants to allow a Corzine tax increase to expire, dropping the top rate from 10.75 percent to 8.9 percent on households earning more than $1 million. To make up for that lost revenue, he plans to cut the budget deeper. Voters can’t say they weren’t warned.
If Christie is to have better success than Corzine in managing the state’s troubled finances, he’ll need some luck in the form of an improved national economy. More robust tax collections would help him balance the budget without imposing drastic cuts in services. But at this point in a slow recovery, such good fortune doesn’t appear likely.
Like Corzine, Christie plans to save money by shortchanging contributions to public-employee pension funds. It’s merely deferring a growing liability, but Christie might have better luck than Corzine in curbing the costly benefits of unionized state employees.
Corzine lost his reelection bid despite significant help from President Obama and Vice President Biden. Some voters in New Jersey and elsewhere did intend to send a message to Obama, but most said in exit polling that the election was not a referendum on the president. Their concerns were more local — high taxes, corruption, and an unemployment rate in New Jersey slightly higher than surrounding states’.
The off-year election results were not a national referendum, but the Republican Party had some successes it can tout. In Virginia, the only other state electing a governor, Republican Robert McDonnell triumphed. Independent voters in New Jersey and Virginia supported the GOP this time.
But Democrats won congressional races in northern California and in an upstate New York district that was represented by Republicans for a century.
The New York contest pointed to a continuing challenge for the GOP. The moderate Republican candidate gave way in the final days to a conservative opponent endorsed by Sarah Palin and Rush Limbaugh, resulting in a Democrat winning the seat.
The GOP is still grappling with whether it wants “pure” conservatives or a big tent, and the rift is as prominent as ever. Christie won by embracing all comers.