Christie wins big in New Jersey, Democrat takes Virginia in governors' races

Reuters

By Scott Malone

Nov 5 (Reuters) - Moderate Republican Chris Christie easilywon re-election as New Jersey governor, while a conservativeRepublican popular with the Tea Party movement narrowly lost hisbid for the Virginia governorship, in two races closely watchedfor their potential impact on future races for Congress and theWhite House.

Former Democratic National Committee Chairman TerryMcAuliffe was elected governor of Virginia, largely with thesupport of the heavily populated Washington suburbs that were hard hit by last month's partial shutdown of the federalgovernment.

McAuliffe's campaign had held up rival Ken Cuccinelli, thestate's attorney general, as a symbol of the Tea Party wing ofthe Republican Party, seen by many voters as responsible for theshutdown, which economists said took a $24 billion bite out ofthe U.S. economy.

Christie, whose broad, cross-party appeal makes him a topcontender if he decides to run for the White House in 2016,addressed Americans' frustration with partisan stalemate in hisvictory speech.

"A dispirited America, angry with their dysfunctionalgovernment in Washington, looks to New Jersey to say, 'Is what Ithink is happening really happening? Are people really comingtogether?'" Christie told supporters. "Let me give the answer toeveryone who is watching tonight. Under this government, ourfirst job is to get the job done and as long as I'm governor,that job will always, always be finished."

The results came less than three weeks after the 16-daypartial government shutdown, a maneuver pushed by conservativeRepublicans seeking to delay or defund Democratic PresidentBarack Obama's signature healthcare reform law, known asObamacare.

Cuccinelli's loss was a setback for the Tea Party movement,which swept a wave of right-wing lawmakers into Congress in 2010and has been seeking to extend its legislative influence in nextyear's congressional elections.

The close race reflected the political split in Virginia,which Obama won in both his presidential races, but that elected a Republican governor four years ago.

Cuccinelli, a social conservative, carried the state's morerural southern and western districts.

In liberal New York City, Bill de Blasio, the city's publicadvocate, crushed Republican Joseph Lhota, running on a platformto bring the "two New Yorks" of rich and poor closer together.

The White House said Obama called McAuliffe, de Blasio andBoston Mayor-elect Martin Walsh, also a Democrat, tocongratulate them on their victories.

NATIONAL ATTENTION

The hotly contested Virginia race drew intense nationalinterest and more out-of-state funding than any gubernatorialcontest in the state's history.

Top stars of the Democratic Party campaigned for McAuliffein the final weeks, including Obama, former President BillClinton, and his wife, Hillary Clinton, a former secretary ofstate and likely 2016 White House contender. ConservativeRepublicans including Senator Ted Cruz of Texas and LouisianaGovernor Bobby Jindal stumped for Cuccinelli.

Cuccinelli surged late in the race, seeking to tie McAuliffeto Obamacare, which has been plagued with technical difficultiessince its Oct. 1 launch.

Analysts warned that the results in Virginia and theNortheastern state of New Jersey were unlikely to be indicativeof congressional and governors' races next year in moreconservative sections of the country.

"You have to be careful only in that these are stateelections. It's not surprising that in New Jersey, thepreference of a Republican would be a moderate Republican," saidJulian Zelizer, a professor of history at Princeton Universityand the author of 2012's "Governing America: The Revival ofPolitical History."

In Alabama, Republican congressional candidate backed bybusiness interests defeated a Tea Party-supported candidate in acongressional primary that heightened tensions between theRepublican Party's pragmatic and ideological wings.

SPRINGBOARD FOR CHRISTIE?

Christie's strong showing in New Jersey over Democraticstate Senator Barbara Buono could leave Republicans wonderingwhether they would do better in 2016 to support the governor, amoderate able to win strong majorities in a Democratic-leaningstate, than a more conservative candidate, such as Senator RandPaul of Kentucky. Christie was winning about 60 percent of thestate's vote.

"In Christie, you have the emergence of a powerful politicalcandidate who has consciously separated himself from the TeaParty wing," Zelizer said.

In New Jersey, Christie is known for his readiness to workwith Democrats, a nod to the state's politically moderatepopulation, where registered Democrats and independents bothoutnumber Republicans.

Most famously, Christie stood side by side with Obama asthey toured the Jersey Shore in the wake of 2012's destructiveSuperstorm Sandy. Some Republicans criticized the move, sayingit boosted Obama's chances against former Massachusetts GovernorMitt Romney in the 2012 presidential election.

Christie's moderate politics could pose problems in apresidential race in such places as South Carolina, an earlyprimary state that is home to a significant number ofevangelical Christians and more conservative Republicans.

On his home turf of Asbury Park, New Jersey, supporters saidthey had no worries about the possibility of him leaving thegovernor's mansion early if he won the White House.

"That didn't change my opinion about voting for him a bit,"said Pepa Sanin, of Totowa, who had volunteered with thecampaign.

NEW YORK BACK TO ITS ROOTS

De Blasio's victory in the New York mayoral race givesAmerica's most populous city its most liberal mayor in ageneration, and the first Democrat in two decades, followinglaw-and-order Republican Rudolph Giuliani and billionaireMichael Bloomberg, who focused on issues including tacklingsmoking and obesity.

De Blasio is expected to take on some Bloomberg-erapolicies, notably the controversial "stop-and-frisk" policingprogram. The Bloomberg administration saw it as a powerfulcrime-fighting tool, but de Blasio and liberal activists contendit unfairly targets black and Hispanic men.

In other ballot initiatives, voters in Colorado approved ameasure to tax recreational marijuana and apply the first $40million in revenue generated by the tax to school funding, whilea Seattle suburb passed a measure to raise the local minimumwage to $15 an hour, supporters said.

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