Asked to choose between the governor they re-elected Tuesday and Hillary Clinton in a presidential contest, New Jersey voters said they would ditch Chris Christie in favor of the former first lady.
NBC News exit polls of New Jersey found that 50% would vote for Clinton in a hypothetical 2016 matchup, while only 43% said for sure that they would stick with Christie. Clinton is widely expected to be a likely Democratic candidate in 2016, and Christie's national ambitions have been well-documented.
Christie is an orthodox Republican on policy issues, but he is widely perceived as a moderate due to his willingness to part with the Tea Party on tactical issues and his close collaboration with President Obama on rebuilding the areas of New Jersey devastated by Hurricane Sandy. As many as 50 state and local Democratic officials in New Jersey have abandoned their own party's candidate for governor and endorsed Christie instead.
"In the Democratic party in New Jersey, there's a huge split, and Christie has alliances with some of the most powerful Democrats in the state," said MSNBC's Steve Kornacki, a longtime observer of New Jersey politics. He pointed to the governor's ties with Democratic power broker George Norcross III, who "runs politics definitely south of [Interstate] 195 in Jersey, and maybe across the state."
But those bipartisan bonds may weaken if Christie formally enters national politics, where ideological differences start to become more important than local power-sharing arrangements. Christie, if matched up against Clinton, would have to contend with his state's reliable blue tilt in national elections. He would also find himself up against the Democratic Party's national operation, which would undoubtedly be more invested in thwarting him than the New Jersey Democrats have proven to be.
Christie might also find himself with a disadvantage among female voters if he were forced to run against Clinton, who would be running to become the country's first female president. Although initial polls showed Christie outpolling Democratic challenger Barbara Buono by 13 points among women, many of those same voters could abandon him in 2016 if forced to choose between him and Clinton.