Now that New Jersey Governor Chris Christie has won a second term, reporters, pundits and anyone else with an opinion seems to be crowning him king of 2016. It’s easy to look at what happened on Tuesday and draw that conclusion that Christie is just the type of Republican that can draw much needed support from women, Hispanics and black voters. But that conclusion would be wrong. To understand what his re-election is really about, you have to look local. Christie didn’t win New Jersey because he’s a moderate; in fact, he won despite being a conservative. The actual reason he won is simple: he’s not a New Jersey Democrat.
We take Chris Christie at his word when he himself says he’s not a moderate. But we don’t need to look at his word –- he’s got a record. Christie vetoed a minimum wage increase (good thing the people of New Jersey voted for an increase this week), cancelled the Hudson River tunnel project (which enjoyed bipartisan support), vetoed a number of bills funding Planned Parenthood, slashed the earned-income tax credit, and vetoed a marriage equality bill. These aren’t the kinds of policy moves that have served the GOP well recently.
So how did he win NJ? Wind the clock back four years. Christie wasn’t part of the state Democratic machine, which had recently produced some real winners. Sen. Bob Torricelli had been forced to pull out of a Senate race after a grand jury investigation. Governor Jim McGreevey cheated on his wife with his male homeland security aide. A Bergen Country Democratic Chair was indicted on racketeering charges and numerous Democratic mayors were caught up in a corruption scandal.
To break the decadent Democratic establishment, Democrats of all stripes wanted an outsider — even if that champion didn’t share their views on most issues. That’s why he can win in a landslide this month while Cory Booker — a liberal Democrat — can easily win a Senate seat just last month last month.
But this is all very specific to New Jersey. Chris Christie got a sizable portion of the Hispanic and African American vote. But that needs to be viewed in context of who he was running against. Would he have done as well against a different candidate? If he hadn’t inexplicably pushed to have the Senate election held just weeks before, would the numbers have changed? We’ll never know for sure, but we do know that it’s irresponsible for everyone to anoint Christie king of the 2016 Republicans without looking at the historical conditions that enabled his rise.
Moreover, New Jersey has a history of electing Republican governors — none of whom moved on to higher office. And it’s not like Christie is the first Northeastern Republican to have presidential ambitions recently. How did Mitt Romney and Rudy Giuliani do again?
There’s no doubt that Governor Chris Christie will be a star on the national stage for the next few years. But that does not automatically translate to electoral gold. What we like in New Jersey may not be everyone else’s cup of tea.
Daniella Gibbs Léger, a native of Verona, New Jersey, is a Senior Vice President at the Center for American Progress Action Fund