ASBURY PARK, N.J. (AP) - Gov. Chris Christie was re-elected with ease Tuesday, demonstrating the kind of broad, bipartisan appeal that will serve as his opening argument should he seek the Republican presidential nomination in 2016.
With 94 percent of precincts reporting, Christie had 60 percent of the vote to Democratic state Sen. Barbara Buono's 39 percent, putting him en route to become the first Republican in a quarter-century to receive more than 50 percent of the New Jersey vote.
This, in a state that President Barack Obama carried a year ago by more than 17 points, his biggest margin in the nation.
"Thank you, New Jersey, for making me the luckiest guy in the world," Christie said in a victory speech late Tuesday in the shore town of Asbury Park.
After a campaign that centered more on his record and personality than his agenda for a second term, he told supporters that he has big plans for education reform and tax cuts, among other issues.
"I did not seek a second term to do small things," he said. "I sought a second term to finish the job. Now watch me do it."
Buono told supporters in her hometown of Metuchen, on the fringes of the New York area, shortly after polls closed that she had called Christie to congratulate him. She noted they had their differences but added, "when it comes down to it, we're just two parents who want to see the best for our children's future."
Christie performed strongly across the political spectrum after aggressively courting constituencies that often shun the GOP: minorities, women and even Democrats, who outnumber Republicans among registered voters by more than 3 to 2.
Interviews with voters as they left polling places found Christie re-elected with broad support among whites, independents, moderates, voters over 40 and those opposing the health care law, among others.
He did well among groups that typically lean Democratic, carrying a majority of women and splitting Hispanics with Buono. And Christie improved on his share of the vote in 2009 among blacks, liberals, Democrats and voters younger than 30 by more than 10 percentage points.
The interviews were conducted for the AP and television networks ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN and Fox News by Edison Research.
Christie, who is openly considering running for president, has said his success offers a template for broadening the GOP's appeal after the disastrous 2012 election cycle and the party's record-low approval ratings following the recent government shutdown.
In his victory speech, some of the biggest cheers came when he said Washington could learn from what he has done in New Jersey.
But voters in New Jersey as a whole were not wildly enthusiastic about Christie as president. Fifty-one percent he would make a good president. When asked whether they preferred Christie or Hillary Rodham Clinton as president if they both ran in 2016, they supported the Democrat 48 percent to 44 percent.
Christie will take over later this month as chairman of the Republican Governors Association, a position that will further raise his national profile.
Christie becomes his party's biggest winner on a night in which Democrat Terry McAuliffe was elected Virginia's next governor, defeating conservative firebrand Ken Cuccinelli. Christie, in contrast, painted himself as a pragmatic leader who worked with Democrats to get the job done during his four years in office.
It was a picture that largely went unchallenged during a campaign whose outcome was never really in doubt.
The Obama administration declined to deploy its best political weapons against Christie, while Buono struggled to earn the support of her party's most devoted supporters. The Democratic Governors Association spent less than $5,000 on the contest while pouring more than $6 million into the Virginia election.
"The Democratic political bosses, some elected, and some not, made a deal with this governor, despite him representing everything they are supposed to be against," Buono said in her concession comments.
Christie built a national fundraising network, dramatically outspending Buono on the airwaves and improving his organization beyond New Jersey. The Christie campaign spent $11.5 million on TV and radio ads, compared with Buono's $2.1 million, according to SMG Delta, a Virginia-based firm that tracks political spending.
Buono repeatedly tried to use Christie's presidential ambitions against him, accusing him of putting his interests ahead of New Jersey's.
She supported gay marriage and abortion rights, while Christie opposes both. When it became clear last month that the New Jersey Supreme Court would rule in favor of gay marriage, Christie dropped an appeal, allowing the practice to become legal in the state.
During a debate less than a month ago, Christie admitted he might not serve out his full second term should he launch a White House bid.
"I won't make those decisions until I have to," he said.
Christie, 51, was already popular when Superstorm Sandy slammed into the coast a year ago, damaging 360,000 homes and businesses and plunging 5.5 million people into darkness. His popularity soared as he donned a blue fleece pullover and led the state through its worst natural disaster, whether embracing Obama or consoling a tearful 9-year-old who had lost her house.
He also underwent weight-loss surgery in February and has been shedding pounds steadily since, a step that could dispel some of the health concerns that have hung over his political future.
Christie's bipartisan appeal does not sit well with GOP conservatives, who are the party's most passionate voters and wield outsize influence in Republican presidential politics. But in a Tuesday interview with CNN, even before his victory was official, Christie appeared to be looking ahead.
Asked if he was a moderate, Christie used a word rarely uttered on the campaign trail in recent days: "I'm a conservative," he said.
Bill de Blasio was elected New York City's first Democratic mayor in two decades Tuesday, posting a potentially record landslide victory while running on an unabashedly liberal, tax-the-rich platform that contrasted sharply with billionaire Michael Bloomberg's record during 12 years in office.
With 99 percent of precincts reporting, De Blasio, the city's public advocate, had 73 percent of the vote compared with 24 percent for Republican Joe Lhota, former chief of the metropolitan area's transit agency.
De Blasio, 52, will take office on Jan. 1 as the 109th mayor of the nation's largest city.
He ran as the anti-Bloomberg, railing against economic inequality and portraying New York as a "tale of two cities" - one rich, the other working class - under the pro-business, pro-development mayor, who made his fortune from the financial information company that bears his name.
"Today you spoke loudly and clearly for a new direction for our city," de Blasio told a rollicking crowd of supporters at the YMCA in his home neighborhood of Park Slope, Brooklyn, a far cry from the glitzy Manhattan hotel ballrooms that usually host election night parties.
"We are united in the belief that our city should leave no New Yorker behind," he said. "The people of this city have chosen a progressive path, and tonight we set forth on it together as one city."
De Blasio, who held a commanding lead in the polls throughout the post-primary campaign, reached out to New Yorkers he contended were left behind by the often Manhattan-centric Bloomberg administration, and he called for a tax increase on the wealthy to pay for universal pre-kindergarten. He also pledged to improve economic opportunities in minority and working-class neighborhoods.
He decried alleged abuses under the police department's stop-and-frisk policy and enjoyed a surge when a federal judge ruled that police had unfairly singled out blacks and Hispanics. The candidate, a white man married to a black woman, also received a boost from a campaign ad featuring their son, a 15-year-old with a big Afro.
"Inequality in New York is not something that only threatens those who are struggling," de Blasio said Tuesday night, flanked by his family. "We are all at our best when every child, every parent, every New Yorker has a shot. And we reach our greatest height when we all rise together."
Despite his reputation for idealism, he has also shown a pragmatic side, having worked for both Bill and Hillary Rodham Clinton and Gov. Andrew Cuomo, and was known for closed-door wheeling-and-dealing while serving on the City Council.
If de Blasio's margin of victory holds, it will surpass Abe Beame's 40-point win in 1973 as the largest by a non-incumbent since five-borough elections began in 1897.
President Barack Obama called de Blasio to congratulate him, according to the White House.
Lhota called de Blasio to concede about half an hour after polls closed at 9 p.m., according to a spokeswoman for the Democratic candidate.
"It was a good fight and it was a fight worth having," Lhota told a crowd of supporters in a Manhattan hotel before offering a word of caution to de Blasio.
"Despite what you might have heard, we are all one city," Lhota said. "We want our city to move forward and not backward, and I hope our mayor-elect understands that before it's too late."
Lhota, 59, spent much of the campaign slamming de Blasio's "tale of two cities" appeal as class warfare and argued that de Blasio's time in the 1980s with the left-wing Sandinistas in Nicaragua as an aid worker and activist made him a Marxist.
Lhota also credited stop-and-frisk with contributing to the city's drop in crime. He charged that a Blasio victory would return the city to its crime-filled past, a point he made with a TV ad that depicted graphic images of violence from decades ago.
Though polling shows New Yorkers largely approve of Bloomberg's policies, those same surveys revealed the city was hungry for a change.
While registered Democrats outnumber Republicans in the city 6 to 1, the last time a Democrat was elected mayor was 1989, when David Dinkins, de Blasio's former boss, was victorious.
Lhota, a onetime deputy mayor to Rudolph Giuliani, announced his mayoral bid on a surge of acclaim for his leadership of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority during last year's Superstorm Sandy. But his campaign struggled out of the gate, and he was slow to raise money.
De Blasio was an afterthought for much of the crowded Democratic primary, spending most of the year in a distant fourth, trailing City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, former U.S. Rep. Anthony Weiner and the Democrats' 2009 nominee, Bill Thompson.
But Thompson's campaign never ignited, and Quinn could not shake her role in the decision to amend the city's term limits to let Bloomberg run again in 2009. When Weiner's support imploded after another sexting scandal, many of his backers went to de Blasio.
Bloomberg, who first ran as a Republican and later became an independent, guided the city through the financial meltdown and the aftermath of 9/11. He is leaving office after three terms.
Cuomo released a glowing statement, saluting his "true friend" on his victory.
Democrats also captured the other two citywide races: Letitia James, a Brooklyn city councilwoman, was elected public advocate, while Scott Stringer, the Manhattan Borough President, was chosen to be comptroller.
Associated Press writers Jennifer Peltz and Michael Casey contributed to this report. Contact Jonathan Lemire on Twitter JonLemire
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