Republican New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie cruised to re-election Tuesday night – and appeared headed for a large margin of victory – amid talk of a 2016 presidential run. Democrats battled for a sweep of top offices in Virginia that would put Terry McAuliffe in the governor’s mansion. New Yorkers chose a new mayor for the first time in a dozen years.
In other, widely scattered odd-year balloting, Colorado was setting a tax rate for marijuana, Houston was deciding the fate of the Astrodome and Alabama Republicans were choosing between two of their own – from different wings of the party – in a special congressional runoff election in a conservative state.
Across the country, voters also were choosing sides in a host of local elections and ballot initiatives. Turnout was expected to be relatively light given that it was not a presidential or congressional election year.
Taken together, the results in individual states and cities were expected to yield 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.
In Virginia, Democrats pushed to control all major statewide offices for the first time since 1970, a rejection of the conservatism that has dominated for the past four years. But Republicans were expected to hold the Legislature.
The state’s two U.S. senators already are Democrats, and McAuliffe was pushing for the governorship, a one-term limited office, four years after voters elected conservative Republican Bob McDonnell. Both Bill and Hillary Rodham Clinton made appearances for McAuliffe in the final weeks, and so did Obama over the weekend.
Republican state Attorney General Ken Cuccinnelli hoped for a late-game rally that would 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.
The race was too close to call more than an hour after polls closed.
It had turned McAuliffe’s way last month partly because of the partial government shutdown; the Democrat effectively used it to link Cuccinnelli to House Republicans in Washington and the tea party. 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.
Democrats also were expected to win the lieutenant governorship, and had a strong shot at the attorney general’s office. They also could break through Republicans’ veto-proof majority in the state House, and all that could set the stage of a presidential battleground ahead of the next White House race.
In New Jersey, Republican Gov. Christie scored a resounding victory intended to send a message to the GOP that a Republican with an inclusive pitch could win in Democratic territory. The AP called the race based on interviews with voters as they left polling places.
Christie’s win had implications for the 2016 presidential race.
His victory 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 results of an exit poll 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:
-Big city mayors: In New York, Democrat Bill de Blasio was expected to cruise to victory over Republican Joe Lhota after Michael Bloomberg’s dozen-year tenure. Atlanta, Boston, Detroit, Minneapolis, Seattle and other cities also chose mayors.
-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.
-Colorado: Colorado voters determined whether to tax marijuana at 25 percent and apply the proceeds to regulating the newly legalized drug and building schools. Voters in 11 rural counties were asked if they wanted to approve secession from the state. One county was talking about joining Wyoming.