New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie's re-election victory was a landslide that doubles as a giant argument that he's set to present to the national Republican Party.
If he runs for president in 2016 -- and he all-but declared his candidacy in his victory speech Tuesday night -- it will be as a bright red star from a deep blue dot of a state. His sweeping win came at a sure cost on his right, measured in moderate positions he staked out along the way. But it helped net him a big win in a heavily Democratic state, in a troubled year for the GOP.
Here are five big takeaways from the exit polls that suggest how Christie might frame a potential 2016 race:
The sheer breadth of Christie's victory is impressive, particularly for a party that has become all-too used to losing elections in challenging environments. Christie won up and down the state, won or came close to winning among every age group and in all education levels, and he easily carried both men and women. He won six in 10 self-described moderates, 86 percent of conservatives, and even three in 10 liberals. Most significantly, he won, capping what was arguably the best 2013 of any Republican. For long-term positioning, he did it by offering himself as the antidote to a broken national political system. "Maybe the people in Washington, D.C., should tune in their TVs right now," Christie said in his victory speech. Done.
The Democratic Party is viewed favorably by 51 percent in New Jersey, matching Obama's approval rating in the state. Christie still won going away. His victory message included a reference to Republicans showing up in places that aren't necessarily welcoming to the GOP these days. It's hard to imagine a friendlier home base for a candidate, notwithstanding the 48-44 edge Hillary Clinton had in a hypothetical 2016 matchup against Christie in the exit polls.
There was nothing subtle about Christie's election-eve rally, complete with Latin music and an introduction in Spanish by Gov. Susana Martinez, R-N.M. A year after an election where Mitt Romney was wiped out among Latino voters, Christie was determined not to let that happen again. He spent more than $1 million on Spanish-language ads and touted a moderate stance on immigration overhaul on the trail. He was rewarded by an outright victory among Latino voters: 51 percent to 45 percent in exit polls. It's too small a sample size to be a statistically significant edge, but it fuels a strong argument for Christie inside the GOP. Even George W. Bush, with his strong showing among Latinos in 2004, lost the demographic group by 13 points in New Jersey, which was more tightly contested that year than in the past two election cycles. Christie outperformed his own showing among Latinos from four years ago by 19 points. Expect this showing to be a major Christie talking point.
Christie lost women 50-45 in 2009. Romney lost women in the state by 24 points last year. But Christie this year erased and reversed the gender gap: He carried women by 15 points, 57-42, despite being matched up against a female candidate who received the backing of national women's groups including EMILY's List. Even Christie Whitman, a Republican woman who supports abortion rights, was unable to win among women in either of her runs for governor. Christie, it should be noted, describes himself as "pro-life" and opposes abortion except in cases of rape or incest. Meanwhile, in Virginia, Ken Cuccinelli's position on abortion contributed to a 9-point gender gap, and a yawning 42-point gap among single women. Christie's leadership qualities ultimately outshone his position on social issues. Eighty-five percent of women said they approved of his handling of Superstorm Sandy, a figure that matched his standing among men.
Christie won despite his party affiliation, not because of it. Fifty-seven percent of New Jersey voters in the exit poll said they view the Republican Party negatively. Republicans were blamed overwhelmingly for the government shutdown, and opposition to the tea party ran 3-1 in the Garden State. Christie won in a flat-out hostile environment for Republicans. He did it as a moderate by national standards, but he won, nonetheless. Christie spent much of the past year, starting with his famous embrace of Obama after Sandy, distancing himself from national Republican leadership. It won't work everywhere. But it did work in 2013.