A Republican governor who can get re-elected in a blue state is something, but look at his coalition and start thinking about 2016
The fact that no one is talking about Chris Christie’s re-election campaign for New Jersey governor is about the most significant thing you can say about it. Many analysts, including this one, thought that Christie’s post-Sandy approval bump would ebb, so that we might get an at least somewhat competitive race with the Democratic candidate, Barbara Buono.
To put it simply, that hasn’t happened. Christie is ahead in the contest by a little more than 25pt, according to the latest Real Clear Politics average. That’s down from his 40pt lead at the beginning of the year, though it’s actually up slightly from the beginning of the month. Christie’s lead has held because his personality popularity has. He has a 68% favorable rating in the latest Stockton poll.
Christie’s dominating lead has pretty much silenced pundits like me: there just isn’t much to talk about in terms of the gubernatorial election. Christie’s going to win, and he’s going to win big.
Yet, it is worth recognizing how impressive Christie’s win looks like it’s going to be. Christie’s going to be the only Republican governor to win more than 50% of the vote in a state where President Obama won by at least 10pt over Mitt Romney. There’s a pretty good chance that Christie is going to be the only Republican governor east of Ohio and north of North Carolina by the end of next year.
Put another way, Christie is defying long-term trends. It wasn’t too long ago that the way a state went in the presidential election was not indicative of how a state would go in the gubernatorial election. That’s no longer the case. So, the fact that Christie is winning in a blue state now is as much of an anomaly as the Republican George Pataki winning in an equally blue New York state in 2002.
I’d go as far as to say that Christie’s win would be historic, if the 25pt margin holds. It’s the type of victory that people will remember because it’s so out of the normal historical range. How so?
President Obama won New Jersey by an average 13.9pt more than he won nationally over the past two elections. If the state was going to vote purely in line with its presidential vote, you’d expect Christie to lose by 13.9pt in a neutral year. Christie is running 39.2pt ahead of that pace.
I gathered the previous 156 non-recall gubernatorial elections since 2002 to see how this 39.2pt difference compares. Christie’s will be the best showing for a Republican candidate versus the presidential vote in the past five years. Of the prior 156 gubernatorial elections, and the two this year (assuming something crazy doesn’t happen in Virginia), since 2002, Christie’s “over-performance” will rank him seventh among Republican gubernatorial candidates.
The only candidates who beat him over the longer period are Jim Douglas in Vermont (a state that had been historically Republican) thrice, Connecticut’s Jodi Rell in 2006, Linda Lingle (who just lost by 20pt in a Senate race in 2012) in Hawaii, and Nevada’s Kenny Guinn in 2002. One thing all of these states had in common is that they didn’t have many black or Hispanic voters. Blacks and Hispanics tend to be less elastic in their patterns, so having more of them in a state makes a Republican’s job at running up the margin more difficult. At the time each of the six better performances occurred, the states where they happened had fewer blacks and/or Hispanics voting than the nation as a whole. That’s not the case in New Jersey.
That’s why it’s not surprising that Christie is only polling so well because he’s doing so well with blacks and Hispanics. He’s down only 19pt among blacks. He’s even with Hispanics. Of all the exit polls I could find over the past decade, no Republican gubernatorial candidate has scored better than that with blacks, and none outside of Florida has performed that well with Latinos.
Christie has shrunk the Democratic margin among blacks by about 70pt, against Obama’s share, in New Jersey. He’s done almost the same with Latinos, whom Obama carried in New Jersey by about 60pt – more than 15pt greater than he did nationwide. For a party looking to make inroads with minorities, Christie has done it.
Another thing none of these other over-performing Republicans had were presidential ambitions. Christie, of course, clearly does. It makes it more difficult to localize the race when this is the case, though Christie has.
Usually, a state’s voters don’t want their politicians to run for president. More Texans thought George W Bush shouldn’t run than should at this point in the 2000 cycle. More Tennesseans believed Al Gore shouldn’t run than should at this point in the 2004 cycle. More Illinoisans, Bay Staters, and New Yorkers thought Barack Obama, Mitt Romney, and Hillary Clinton respectively shouldn’t run than should at this point in the 2008 cycle.
Christie’s been so successful in his campaign that more New Jersey voters think he should run in 2016 than shouldn’t per a recent Quinnipiac poll. Christie has not only gone into a blue state as a Republican governor and convinced many he should be re-elected, but he’s done it even as they know he may run for president. More than that, they like the idea.
Some, especially on the right of the GOP, may say Christie has sold out conservative principles to get where he is in the campaign. The funny thing is that Republicans in his home state don’t agree. A recent survey had him winning a majority of them in a hypothetical 2016 matchup. It’s the only survey done so far this year in any state where a candidate has won the majority of the vote in a Republican primary.
When you look at the whole picture, you can see what I mean when I say Chris Christie’s re-election prospects are historic. He’s winning by a wider margin than nearly every other Republican gubernatorial candidate before him since 2002, compared to the state’s presidential leaning. He’s done so with a wide coalition and has gotten them to go along with his presidential ambitions.
It makes you think that Christie might win a certain election in 2016, too.