Governor's Races: One Contest and One No Contest

New Jersey Republican Governor Chris Christie is cruising towards a decisive victory in his campaign for re-election. The only question is whether his margin is so large that it automatically places him in the top tier of GOP presidential candidates in 2016, given that New Jersey is a reliably blue state won by President Obama in 2012 by 17%.

Christie, who was first elected in a race against scandal-tainted Democratic Governor John Corzine by about 4% in 2009, has been riding a wave of support since his handling of “Superstorm Sandy” in the week before the 2012 presidential election. Some polls suggest Christie could win by 25-30 points, with the closest poll showing him ahead by 19% over Democratic state Senator Barbara Buono.

Christie’s margin of victory will almost certainly exceed that of former Newark Mayor Cory Booker, who won a special election to fill the U.S. Senate seat of Frank Lautenberg, the Democratic senator who died in June. Booker won by 10% over Republican Steve Lonegan in the election held on October 16. Christie selected the date for the special election for Lautenberg’s seat, choosing one that was three weeks before the regular November election date for the governor’s race.

Some speculated that his motive was avoiding having both races decided on the November election day, so as to limit the minority turnout (mainly African Americans) in Christie’s race, as this could cut into his own margin of victory. Christie said he picked the earlier date for the special election since he wanted the Senate vacancy filled sooner rather than later. Polls have shown Christie doing significantly better than most Republicans among African American voters. The governor has campaigned in African American areas, and has maintained good relations with Booker, the state’s most prominent African American politician. Buono will almost certainly win the African American vote decisively, but not by the Barack Obama-sized margins of his presidential races (95% to 4% in 2008, 93% to 6% in 2012).

It is no secret that Christie is interested in running for president in 2016. Excerpts from a new book on the 2012 campaign reveal that Christie was considered for the 2012 vice presidential nomination by GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney, and that he was one of the five finalists for the spot eventually offered to Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan. The book claims that Christie was passed over in part due to Romney’s concerns about his health, mainly associated with Christie’s weight,  as well as issues relating to his career prior to becoming governor.

Christie delivered the keynote address at the 2012 GOP convention, and his talk made almost no reference to Romney, the Republican standard-bearer about to be nominated. When President Obama visited New Jersey after “Superstorm Sandy," he was warmly greeted by Christie, and the two seemed to be a team. Given that their meet-up took place just days before the presidential election, the bipartisanship exhibited by both men to address storm victims and damage seemed to give Obama a lift in the national polls heading towards the finish line. It also seemed to give Christie a political boost in New Jersey, where Obama is popular. Obama’s eventual national margin of victory (4%) doubled in the last week of the race.

It is, of course, very early to be assessing a candidate’s chances to be nominated and to win in 2016. Hillary Clinton is virtually certain to be the Democratic nominee, since it is most unlikely that she will skip the race to stay home baking, waiting for grandchildren, collecting royalties from her next ghostwritten collection of memoirs, and making the occasional speech for Goldman Sachs and others for several hundred thousand dollars a pop. Clinton is an extraordinarily focused politician, and has had her eye on the White House since her husband first ran for the office, if not before.

Christie has run well in early head-to-head polling against Clinton, suggesting a broader support level in certain areas of the country and among certain groups than other Republicans who are considered likely candidates for the nomination in 2016. Kentucky Senator Rand Paul has also shown some crossover appeal due to his libertarian streak. Peggy Noonan has argued that Christie’s ability to win decisively in a blue state is due in large part to his everyman appeal. He is neither the Wall Street candidate nor the candidate of the  Tea Party, but rather someone who seems to enjoy being out with voters and is seen as a problem-solver, with some of the retail political skills of Bill Clinton.