Last updated at 10:55 pm.
Broad personal and professional appeal lifted Chris Christie to easy re-election in New Jersey, yet without the clear home state endorsement for the presidency he might have wanted. His fellow Republican, Ken Cuccinelli, lost a far closer contest in Virginia, done in by a mismatch on ideology in general and abortion in particular.
More than six in 10 New Jersey voters viewed Christie favorably overall and 64 percent approved of his handling of the state’s economy – a remarkable achievement, in that six in 10 rated the economy negatively and just three in 10 said it’d improved since he took office. Even more – 85 percent – approved of Christie’s handling of the aftermath of superstorm Sandy.
Yet even with those very high scores, barely more than half of voters, 51 percent, said Christie would make a good president. And Hillary Clinton had 48 percent to his 44 percent in a hypothetical matchup for 2016, suggesting that even a Republican as popular as Christie can face difficulties against a strong opponent in his predominantly Democratic state.
Regardless, Christie got bragging rights from other quarters. He won 51 percent of Latinos voting in his state, a fifth of blacks and a third of nonwhites overall, an unusual achievement for a Republican; his share of nonwhites improved from 19 percent in 2009. He crossed the aisle to pick up 32 percent of Democrats and 31 percent of liberals, while winning moderates and independents by broad margins, as well as vast support from conservatives and Republicans.
Christie’s share of Democrats was up by 24 percentage points from 2009. And while he split voters under age 30 with Democrat Barbara Buono, he improved in this group as well, by 13 points.
In Virginia, support for legal abortion, skepticism about the Tea Party, fallout from the federal government shutdown and doubts about his political ideology confronted Cuccinelli. Six in 10 voters supported legal abortion, which Cuccinelli opposed prominently. Voters by a double-digit margin, 42-28 percent, were more apt to oppose than to support the Tea Party political movement, which backed Cuccinelli. And half called Cuccinelli “too conservative,” an opening for his Democratic opponent, Terry McAuliffe.
Women, in particular, were critical of Cuccinelli; exit poll results indicated they favored McAuliffe by 9 points. More particularly, McAuliffe lost married women by 9 points but won unmarried women by 42 points – an even bigger gap than Barack Obama’s in 2012 (-7 in the former, +36 in the latter.)
A quarter of women called abortion the most important issue in their vote, vs. 14 percent of men, and abortion voters of either sex favored McAuliffe by about 2-1. McAuliffe was far weaker among voters focused on the economy and health care, slightly trailing Cuccinelli on these issues.
McAuliffe won supporters of legal abortion overall by 44 percentage points, those who saw Cuccinelli as too conservative by 57 points and Tea Party critics by 75 points. He also won the three in 10 Virginia voters who said someone in their household was affected by the partial federal shutdown last month, by a 19-point margin.
Cuccinelli pushed back with wide margins in customary GOP camps – and even won one in seven of those who called him too conservative, a sign of their dissatisfaction with McAuliffe as an alternative. Cuccinelli won evangelical white Protestants, a key GOP group, by 66 points, although their share of the electorate (about a quarter) declined by 7 points compared with the 2009 gubernatorial election.
Additionally, 53 percent of Virginia voters opposed the new federal health care law, which Cuccinelli sharply criticized.
Exit poll results indicated that Democratic turnout was up slightly, by 4 percentage points, and Republican turnout down by 5, compared with 2009. Cuccinelli compensated with a 9-point win among independents. And he fought back strongly in another area as well: Among voters who were neutral on the Tea Party – neither pro nor con – Cuccinelli beat McAuliffe by 2-1.
Other results marked a changing racial and ethnic makeup in Virginia: The share of the electorate that’s white fell from 78 percent in 2009 to 72 percent this year – and nonwhites, overwhelmingly Democrats, voted for McAuliffe by a 65-point margin. The issue is a critical challenge for Republicans nationally, as shown by Mitt Romney in 2012, when he won whites by 20 points but lost the presidency nonetheless.
Finally, while it didn’t change the outcome, the third-party candidate in the race, Libertarian Robert Sarvis, may have made it closer for McAuliffe than it would have been otherwise. Had he not been on the ballot, a third of his voters said they’d have supported McAuliffe – slightly more than twice as many as said they’d have gone for Cuccinelli.
By Gary Langer and Gregory Holyk.