I DID NOT seek a second term to do small things,” Chris Christie declared last night as he celebrated winning re-election as New Jersey’s governor, riding a centrist mien and a practical conservative agenda to a new four-year term in the statehouse in Trenton. If he stays at the statehouse in Trenton for four years.
Christie, who defeated Democratic challenger Barbara Buono by 22 points, solidified his hold on the political imagination by winning among cohorts that Republicans have come to ignore.
“Exit polls indicate that Christie performed strongly across demographic groups,” reported Alana Semuels of the Los Angeles Times. “Nearly half of Latinos voted for him, a 16-point increase from his 2009 win against incumbent Jon Corzine. Christie received 20% of the African American vote, double what he received in 2009. He also saw a bump in female supporters, winning 55% of women voters.”
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Taking a little something from the Obama Victory Songbook (Stevie Wonder’s “Signed, Sealed, Delivered” preceded his speech), Christie offered his own victory message delivered in a heartfelt, pugnacious address, a capstone on a robust coalition-style campaign that was a template of how Republicans can win and win again, and win convincingly, among voters they’re not supposed to appeal to at all.
At a victory rally in Asbury Park, he fired a warning shot at Capitol Hill. “We stand here tonight showing it is possible to put doing your job first, to put working together first, to fight for what you believe in, yet still stand by your principles and get something done for the people who elected you,” he said. “I know that if we can do this in Trenton, N.J., maybe the folks in Washington, D.C., should tune in their TVs right now, see how it’s done.”
And Christie offered a shoutout to a beleaguered nation. “Tonight, a dispirited America angry with their dysfunctional government in Washington looks to New Jersey to say, ‘Is what I think happening really happening? Are people really coming together, are we really working, African Americans and Hispanics, suburbanites and city dwellers, farmers and teachers, are we really all working together?' Let me give the answer to everyone who is watching tonight: Under this government, our first job is to get the job done, and as long as I’m governor, that job will always, always be finished.”
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BUT SUPERSTORM SANDY was Christie’s touchstone last night, its devastating impact on his state the animating force for what he described as “a mission,” one that would power his next four years in office.
“It’s no longer a job for me,” he said. “It’s a mission ... to make sure that everyone, everyone in New Jersey who was affected by Sandy is returned to normalcy in their life, and I want to promise you tonight that I will not let anyone, anything, any political party any governmental entity or any force get in between me and the completion of my mission.”
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Christie’s dilemma is the same one facing any presumably-moderate Republican anywhere in the country. He can’t win the presidency if he can’t nail down the support of the base voters he’ll need to reach the deep-pocketed donors that a well-oiled national campaign requires.
And he can’t win the presidency if he fails to appeal to voters beyond the Republican base, the voters whose demographic breadth would give his campaign the credibility he needs. The same voters that the Republican base wants nothing to do with.
Both/and, not either/or.
Cracking that Enigma code of conservative American politics would make him at least theoretically viable. But some of Christie’s challenge will be in how well he exports his blustery, outsized personal style, and that ain’t nothing. What goes down well in Jersey may not work on the road.
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JOHN NICHOLS of The Nation commented on the tone of Christie’s victory speech last night on MSNBC: “It’s an OK introduction,” he said. “But I still don’t see how that plays in Iowa, coming from the Midwest, a rather self-deprecating part of the country, where people don’t overly blow their horn — here’s this guy saying, ‘I’m it, man, I’m the only thing that ever happened.”
And if the governor decides to test the presidential campaign waters, Christie can expect the media microscope will be in full effect, with the press and the public watching for how he follows through on a victory message that was so centrist in its intentions, so populist in its language, that it raises the question of where the brash, big-tent, pro-immigration Republican moderate ends and the rock-ribbed, anti-gay marriage, anti-abortion, union-antagonistic conservative begins.
Last night, Christie performed the political equivalent of levitation, winning re-election as a Republican in a reliably Democratic state. That was the easier part, espeecially against a regrettably marginal challenger. Now comes the heavier lift: the balancing act of managing the state and managing expectations — from the right, left and center — of who and what he really is, and what he could be in 2016.
Image credits: Christie top: Mel Evans/Associated Press. Christie sign: Brent LoGiurato/Business Insider.