Republican Chris Christie Rides Wave of Discontent to N.J. Governorship
November 4, 2009Republican Chris Christie tapped into deep voter discontent over stubbornly high taxes and chronic financial problems to unseat New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine on Tuesday, despite being outspent by $12 million in a heavily Democratic state.
Christie, 47, is the first Republican to win a statewide race in New Jersey in a dozen years. His convincing victory was particularly satisfying for Republicans who earlier Tuesday had captured the country's only other governor's race, in Virginia. The New Jersey race was a tossup heading into Election Day.
"Tomorrow, starting tomorrow, we are going to pick Trenton up and turn it upside down," Christie told cheering supporters at a hotel in Parsippany.
Many voters expressed dissatisfaction with all the candidates, saying they were disappointed with Corzine, unsure Christie would do better and unconvinced that Chris Daggett, a third-party candidate who at one point had been feared as a potential spoiler, could win.
Craig Royer, 46, of Woodbridge in central New Jersey, typified voters' discontent.
"I'm tired of the Democrats," Royer said. "I voted for Chris Christie because he's not Jon Corzine."
Christie made a reputation for himself by locking up 130 officials without losing a single corruption case. Augusta Przygoda, who said she became a Republican after she moved to Hoboken in 1970, praised Christie's record as U.S. attorney.
"I admire how he cleaned up New Jersey, or at least tried to," she said. "It still needs cleaning up, but no one else seems to have the courage to do it."
The results were a troubling sign for President Barack Obama heading into next year's midterm elections. Obama invested heavily in the New Jersey race, campaigning with Corzine five times on three separate visits.
Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele, who was at Christie headquarters in Parsippany, said Christie's win sends a message that voters are demanding change.
"This race tonight, this election tonight, sends a very strong message throughout the country, that, you know, the change we thought we were getting? Well, we're going to show you the kind of change we want, and that's the kind of change that Chris Christie is bringing," Steele said.
Democrats sought to downplay the results.
"In both Virginia and New Jersey, we had strong candidates who were running against a significant historical tide and faced uphill battles from the start of this campaign," Democratic National Committee Chairman Tim Kaine said in a statement.
With 99 percent of precincts reporting, Christie had 1,140,134 votes, or 49 percent, compared with 1,040,404, or 45 percent, for Corzine. Daggett had about 6 percent of the vote.
The election between an unpopular incumbent and a hard-charging challenger focused on New Jersey's ailing economy, its highest-in-the-nation property taxes and even Christie's weight.
Daggett, a former Environmental Protection Agency administrator, may have cut into Corzine's base. Two-thirds of Daggett voters approved of Obama, suggesting they were more likely to lean Democratic, according to an Associated Press exit poll.
Republicans had complained earlier Tuesday about state Democrats paying for automated phone calls that were made on Daggett's behalf.
Corzine also failed to sway unaffiliated women voters, a majority of whom voted for Christie despite being courted by Corzine, according to the exit poll.
The outgoing governor said he would continue to fight on behalf of New Jersey.
"This is a moment when there is some sadness, I must say," he told supporters.
Christie accepted public financing in the race and was outspent $23 million to $11 million. He did get financial help from the Republican Governors Association and other national Republican groups, which bought television time in the pricey New York and Philadelphia media markets.
Christie ran on a platform of smaller government and relentlessly criticized Corzine for what he called poor economic stewardship. State unemployment was at 9.8 percent in October, and property taxes averaged $7,045 per household. Corzine failed to deliver property tax relief to the middle class that he promised four years ago, though he did preserve rebates to senior citizens and low-income wage-earners.
Christie was criticized during the campaign for remaining vague about how he would solve New Jersey's chronic fiscal problems.
The campaign also got personal. Christie has acknowledged struggling with his weight, and at one point his size became a central issue after an Internet ad from the Corzine campaign said Christie "threw his weight around" to get out of traffic tickets.
Associated Press writer Geoff Mulvihill contributed to this report.
(Copyright 2009 Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)