New Jersey elections: Chris Christie wins re-election in off-year US vote

Written by Associated Press | Washington | Updated: Nov 6 2013, 14:58pm hrs
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, a possible Republican presidential candidate, was re-elected with ease in one of the key races in the United States' off-year elections Tuesday. Elsewhere, Republicans were in danger of losing the governor's seat in Virginia in a blow to the hardcore conservative tea party movement, while New Yorkers were poised to elect a liberal Democrat to succeed billionaire Michael Bloomberg as mayor.

The sweeping victory in a Democratic-leaning state demonstrated Chris Christie's broad, bipartisan appeal and could boost his candidacy should he seek the presidential nomination in 2016.

The off-year vote will be scrutinized for clues to the mood of Americans ahead of next year's congressional elections _ especially with a pragmatic conservative Republican, Christie, prevailing in New Jersey, while a more ideological one, Ken Cuccinelli in Virginia, was expected to lose. But the answers could be murky. Both races were shaped by the personalities and issues in those states and it could be hard to judge if there are national implications.

New Yorkers are expected to elect Bill de Blasio, head of the city's public watchdog agency, to replace Bloomberg, the Republican-turned-independent who has been the city's mayor for 12 years. Though New York is overwhelmingly Democratic, it hasn't had a Democratic mayor in 20 years, after Bloomberg's three terms and two by his Republican predecessor, Rudolph Giuliani.

De Blasio's expected victory over Republican Joe Lhota, a onetime Giuliani deputy, is seen as reflecting unease with the inequality of wealth among city residents, even as New York prospered over the past two decades.

In Washington state, voters were deciding whether to require the labeling of genetically modified food. And in Colorado, they were considering whether to tax marijuana at 25 percent and dedicate the proceeds to regulating the newly legalized drug and building schools.

Turnout was expected to be relatively light _ even in the most hard-fought races _ given that it was not a presidential or congressional election year, and voters were primarily hard-core partisans.

In New Jersey, with 23 percent of precincts reporting, Christie had 58 percent of the vote to 41 percent for Democrat Barbara Buono, a state senator. He was on track to become the first Republican in a quarter-century to receive more than 50 percent of the vote in New Jersey, a state that voted overwhelmingly for President Barack Obama last year.

Christie drew on support from Democrats, independents and minorities in his win. That could position him to argue that his emphasis on pragmatism over ideology makes him the most electable Republican in what could be a crowded 2016 presidential primary field.

But it's not clear if Republican primary voters, who tend to be more conservative and ideological than the general electorate, will warm to the brash governor of a northeastern state. Republicans were fuming when, in the final days of last year's presidential campaign, Christie lavished praise on Obama for his response to a devastating storm that struck New Jersey.

In Virginia, Terry McAuliffe, a former top Democratic Party official and close friend of Bill and Hillary Clinton, was favored to defeat Cuccinelli, the state attorney general. Cuccinelli's candidacy was likely hurt by his ties to the small-government tea party movement, which is widely blamed for instigating last month's federal government shutdown. Virginia is next to Washington, D.C., and is home to a large number of federal employees.

Preliminary results of an exit poll conducted for The Associated Press and the television networks found that about a third of Virginia voters said they were personally impacted by the shutdown, and nearly half said Republicans deserved the blame for it.

Cuccinelli also had to deal with a scandal involving the incumbent Republican governor, who was barred by law from seeking re-election; a strong campaign by a candidate for the Libertarian Party, which favors a minimal role for government and could take votes from the Republican; and the tremendous fundraising prowess of his Democratic rival.

Cuccinelli was hoping to score points in the final weeks of the campaign by highlighting the bungled start to Obama's signature health care overhaul. He emphasized that he was the first state attorney general to file a lawsuit to overturn the health law.

The race was too close to call more than two hours after polls closed.

Among other races, mayors were being elected in Detroit, now undergoing the largest municipal bankruptcy in U.S. history, and Boston, where Mayor Thomas Menino wasn't seeking re-election after more than two decades in office.