New Jersey Governor Chris Christie scored another term in the statehouse Tuesday with a landslide victory over Democratic state senator Barbara Buono, emerging as one of his party’s top prospects to retake the White House in 2016.
Christie’s win has been almost a given since Hurricane Sandy devastated the Jersey Shore last year, but the scale of the win — he was up 21 points with about three-quarters of precincts reporting — demonstrates significant across-the-aisle appeal. In 2009, he won just 48.5% of the vote.
In his victory speech, Christie said his record of bipartisanship should serve as a lesson for a divided Washington, and said a “dispirited America — angry, angry at their dysfunction in Washington — looks to New Jersey.”
“I know that if we can do this in Trenton, New Jersey, maybe the folks in Washington, D.C., should tune in to their TVs right now,” he said. “You don’t just show up six months before an elections, you show up four years before. You don’t just take no for an answer, you keep going back.”
And in a message that seemed intended to defuse the inevitable criticism that he’ll now turn his focus toward a White House run, Christie added: “I did not seek a second term to do small things. I sought a second term to finish the job. Now watch me do it.”
From the start, the outspoken governor focused his campaign on expanding the electorate, and the payoff is clear. The governor made significant inroads with minorities, a must for Republicans nationally, winning the support of 19% of African Americans and 31% of Hispanics, according to exit polls.
In an interview with CNN before polls closed, Christie said he invested in reaching out to “African Americans, Hispanics, folks who have not normally been in the Republican column.”
“I think you need to go to those folks for four years and include them in the governing process, and then make your pitch during a campaign as to why what you did as a governor is worthy of their support when you come up for an election,” he said.
“I tried this four years ago and wasn’t very successful in attracting those votes, I think in part because they just didn’t know who I was and how I would govern,” Christie added. “I think we will do much better this time.”
Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, who chairs the Republican Governors Association, called Christie’s victory proof that “Republicans can compete and win in every state.”
“Governor Chris Christie’s overwhelming victory proves that voters are looking for confident and competent leadership,” Jindal said in a statement. “His tenure as chief executive has placed a premium on achieving results over scoring political points.”
Echoing Jindal, Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus said in a statement that Christie “proved that Republican principles get results — even in a state the pundits like to call a ‘blue state.'”
Christie has repeatedly held up his campaign as a model for the future of the GOP to donors and elites, a not-so-subtle hint at his future ambitions.
In August, in a closed-door speech to the Republican National Committee, he stressed that his focus was on building a winning coalition, taking subtle digs at other potential Republican candidates who he implied are too focused on taking ideological stands.
“For our ideas to matter, we have to win,” Christie said at the time. “Because if we don’t win, we don’t govern. And if we don’t govern, all we do is shout into the wind.”
“I am going to do anything that I need to do to win,” he added.