The excitement kept building among New Jersey Republicans throughout the day Tuesday as New Jersey voters went to the polls to elect a governor. By mid-afternoon, reports from select precincts in six New Jersey counties showed Republican turnout exceeding that of the Democrats in both swing and traditionally Republican districts.
Republican Christopher Christie made a diner swing in the morning for some last minute electioneering, then abruptly ended his official schedule at noon, a full eight hours before the polls closed. It was a sign that the campaign thought everything was going its way.
Polls of the race in the final days showed an impossibly close contest, with both Christie and incumbent Governor Jon Corzine each holding leads within the margin of error depending on which survey was reporting.
Independent candidate Christopher Daggett continued to fade, managing between eight and twelve percent in the last four polls, down from his high of 20 percent from a survey taken just two weeks ago. Republicans believed that Christie would be the major beneficiary of Daggett voters’ second thoughts. Democrats, on the other hand, concentrated on turning out their base in key areas as President Barack Obama paid his third visit to New Jersey on Sunday to headline two rallies for Corzine in heavily Democratic Camden and Newark.
Early exit polls seemed to confirm the good feeling building among Christie supporters at the Parsippany Hilton, in Christie’s home base of Morris County. The Christie campaign pointed to 31 percent of voters who named the economy as their top issue of concern and another 26 percent that named property taxes. Both were central issues for the Christie.
The results were not so good for the Corzine campaign. According to the exits, President Obama had no measurable impact on the electorate. Nineteen percent said they cast their vote to show support for the president, while 20 percent said they cast theirs in opposition to Obama. Sixty percent said that the President’s support for Corzine had no effect on their decision. Only 18 percent of exit poll respondents named health care as their top issue. The Corzine campaign had made Christie’s support for easing some state mandates on health insurance coverage one of its major issues.
The exits also showed independent voters breaking heavily for Christie. One sample showed him winning the swing-voters by a resounding 58-33 percent with independents accounting for 27 percent of the total electorate.
A smiling New Jersey GOP Chairman Jay Webber said that traditionally Democratic districts in Newark and Camden were not seeing normal levels of turnout. “Jersey City seems to be doing very well,” Webber said, “Other Democratic areas are not.”
State Senator Tom Kean, Jr., a former candidate for the U.S. Senate, was optimistic as well. “I think we’re seeing Christie outperforming in every area,” he said.
That analysis was backed up by results in Gloucester and Ocean County. Ocean County makes up part of Christie’s support base and he was expected to win big there. He ended up tripling the Republican margin from the 2005 governor’s race in Ocean, beating Corzine by 38 percent. In Gloucester County, just south of Democrat-heavy Camden County, Christie beat Corzine by 3,000 votes. In 2008, Obama carried Gloucester by 16 points.
At shortly after 10 p.m., word spread through the ballroom like wildfire that the Associated Press was calling the governor’s race for Christie. AP was followed in quick succession by the major networks. However, the Christie campaign refused to acknowledge the media calls, and pulled all of its surrogates off the floor.
Christie finally took to the podium shortly after 11 p.m. to a raucous crowd waving
campaign signs and American flags and to the strains of Bruce Springsteen’s “Born to Run.”
Christie, usually an extemporaneous speaker, worked from a prepared text, perhaps owing to the gravity of the moment. The governor-elect thanked his family, his supporters, and said the victory was “about the future of the state we love, the great state of New Jersey.” “Hey New Jersey, we did it!” he exclaimed, to which the crowd mockingly chanted, “Yes we did!”
“We are in a crisis,” Christie told the crowd. “But I stand here full of hope, full of expectation for the future. Tomorrow we begin to take back New Jersey.”
Christie was magnanimous in victory, thanking Corzine for his “years of service to the state.” Christie said the governor pledged a smooth transition to the new administration.
Corzine’s defeat capped a bad night for Democrats in general, and President Obama in particular. Two of the president’s three high profile visits to New Jersey came in the last ten days of the campaign. His administration also sent Vice President Biden multiple times and dispatched several Cabinet officials to the state in an effort to boost Democratic turnout. Coupled with the runaway victory for Bob McDonnell in Virginia’s governor’s race, national Republicans see cracks in the Obama juggernaut. They now take momentum into next year’s Congressional elections.