His pitch bipartisan and inclusive, Republican Gov. Chris Christie cruised to re-election Tuesday in Democratic-leaning New Jersey amid talk of a possible 2016 presidential run. Democrat Terry McAuliffe narrowly won the Virginia governor’s race, leading what Democrats hoped would be their first sweep of statewide offices in decades.
New Yorkers chose Bill de Blasio as mayor, electing the first Democrat since 1989.
In other, widely scattered off-year balloting, Houston rejected a plan to turn Astrodome into a convention hall, likely dooming it to demolition, while Colorado agreed to tax marijuana at 25 percent. Alabama Republicans were choosing between two of their own — from different wings of the party — in a too-close-to-call special congressional runoff election in a conservative state.
Taken together, the results in individual states and cities yielded no broad judgments on how the American public feels about today’s two biggest national political debates — government spending and health care — which are more likely to shape next fall’s midterm elections.
Even so, Tuesday’s voting had local impact, and it mattered in ways big and small.
The outcomes of both governors’ races signaled that, in the midst of a deep division within the Republican Party, pragmatism won out over ideology.
In Virginia, McAuliffe turned back a late-game push by state Attorney General Ken Cuccinnelli, a Republican. Both Bill and Hillary Rodham Clinton made appearances for McAuliffe in the final weeks, and so did President Barack Obama over the weekend. The Democrat also dramatically outspent his GOP rival in TV ads in the final weeks.
Cuccinelli had sought to prove that a tea party-backed conservative could win the governorship of a swing-voting state. He brought big-name supporters to the state, too, including Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal — all potential presidential contenders.
Virginia Democrats hoped they were on their way to holding all statewide-elected offices for the first time since 1970 and turning back of the conservatism that has dominated for the past four years under one-term limited Gov. Bob McDonnell. The state’s two U.S. senators already are Democrats. Aside from McAuliffe, Democrats also won the lieutenant governorship. The race for the attorney general’s office was neck and neck.
The race had turned McAuliffe’s way last month partly because of the partial government shutdown. 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.
Although Republicans were expected to hold the Legislature, Democrats also could break through Republicans’ veto-proof majority in the state House, and all that could set the stage of in a presidential battleground ahead of the next White House race.
Also with potential presidential overtones, Christie’s resounding victory was intended to send a message to the GOP that a Republican with an inclusive pitch could win in Democratic territory.
“As your governor, it has never mattered where someone is from, whether they voted for me or not, what the color of their skin was, or their political party,” Christie said in his victory speech. “For me, being governor has always about getting the job done, first.”
Indeed, his triumph showed his ability to draw support from Democrats, independents and minorities. Much like George W. Bush did in his re-election race as governor in Texas in 1998, Christie now may have fodder to argue that that he is the most electable in what might well be a crowded presidential primary field.
Later this month, Christie assumes the chairmanship of the Republican Governors Association, giving him another platform for a possible national campaign.
Christie’s victory makes him the only Republican governor considering the presidency and serving with a Democratic legislature. He was opposed by state Sen. Barbara Buono.
Preliminary exit poll results in New Jersey suggest about that about half of New Jersey voters think Christie would make a good president, yet he would lag behind Hillary Clinton in a hypothetical 2016 matchup.
Elsewhere on Tuesday, the party’s internal squabbles played out in the special congressional runoff primary election in Alabama. It featured veteran politician Bradley Byrne, the choice of the GOP establishment, against tea party favorite Dean Young.
The race was the first test of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s promise to try to influence primaries. The group has pumped at least $200,000 into supporting Byrne, who has almost two decades in politics. Young argues that the Chamber endorsement is evidence that Byrne is the choice of big Washington interests.
Other races to watch:
o Big city mayors: In New York, de Blasio won handily over Republican Joe Lhota after Michael Bloomberg’s dozen-year tenure. Atlanta, Boston, Detroit, Minneapolis, Seattle and other cities also chose mayors.
o Washington state: Voters weighed in on a ballot issue over mandatory labeling of genetically modified food, a contest that has drawn hefty financial contributions in opposition from the likes of PepsiCo., Monsanto and General Mills, which last year spent $46 million to defeat a similar measure in California.
o Colorado: Colorado voters agreed to tax marijuana at 25 percent and apply the proceeds to regulating the newly legalized drug and building schools. And 10 rural counties refused to approve secession from the state. One county narrowly voted to secede, but it was a symbolic gesture.
Associated Press writers Bill Barrow and Christina Almeida Cassidy in Georgia, Kristen Wyatt in Colorado, Chris Grygiel in Washington state, Corey Williams in Michigan and Nedra Pickler in Washington contributed to this report.