New Jersey Governor Chris Christie easily won re-election Tuesday over Democrat Barbara Buono, launching the GOP star to another term in a deep-blue state and solidifying his status as a top-tier 2016 presidential candidate. In a victory speech brimming with the cadence and optimistic rhetoric of a future presidential stump speech, Christie celebrated his "big, big win" and suggested that his administration's message of inclusion could offer lessons to the federal government.
Gov. Chris Christie (R) pushed for an overwhelming re-election victory and met his goal, winning a second term by a whopping 22-point margin, besting his Democratic rival, state Sen. Barbara Buono, in 19 of New Jersey's 21 counties.
The point, of course, was to position the governor for his national campaign -- Christie very nearly launched a presidential campaign last night during his victory speech -- which will be a major topic of conversation for the political world today and in the near future.
The talking points were scripted months ago: Christie won a landslide in a "blue" state, which helps demonstrate his electability. Indeed, he fared well among traditional Democratic constituencies -- women, younger voters, racial and ethnic minorities -- which only helps reinforce the thesis.
And while I don't doubt that pundits will find this persuasive -- good lord, does the political media establishment tend to love this guy -- I'd recommend at least some caution. Christie cruised to a lopsided victory because he wasn't facing stiff competition. Democrats effectively gave up on this race before it started; Buono struggled badly to raise money and get her message out; the governor outspent his rival by a 6-to-1 margin; and Christie rigged the process a bit by scheduling Cory Booker's Senate race a few weeks ago because the governor was afraid to be on the same ballot as the popular Democrat.
This isn't to say the governor's victory is unimpressive, but rather, that extrapolating larger lessons isn't as easy as it might appear. The last time he faced a genuinely difficult Republican primary challenge was in the late 1990s and Christie lost at the time. Now imagine him going against Republican powerhouses in 2016.
For that matter, Christie's ability to crush Buono doesn't tell us much about how he'd fare against, say, Hillary Clinton. Indeed, New Jersey voters were asked yesterday who'd they support in a hypothetical Christie-Clinton match-up. While the governor was winning his re-election bid by 22 points, the exact same New Jersey voters still preferred Clinton by six points.
It's the sort of detail that undermines the whole "Christie proved he's the frontrunner" thesis.
All of the same truths we knew before haven't gone away. The Republican Party base, which has deliberately excluded him from events like CPAC, doesn't like the fact that he praised and embraced (literally) President Obama during the response to Hurricane Sandy; he's accepted expansion of the Affordable Care Act; he's referred to elements of the GOP base as "the crazies"; and he's supported some limited reforms on gun laws.
What's more, when Mitt Romney wanted to add Christie to the 2012 GOP ticket, the Republican candidate took a close look at what the vetters found in the governor's background and "promptly changed his mind" -- not because of the governor's weight problems, but because of "the garish controversies lurking in the shadows of his record."
Given all of this, I'd recommend keeping the coronation plans on hold.