Asbury Park, N.J. — Signed, sealed, delivered.
A triumphant Chris Christie took the stage to the Stevie Wonder classic on Tuesday night after trouncing his opponent by over 20 points and propelling himself to the front of the GOP’s 2016 presidential pack.
Though the 51-year-old governor addressed himself to New Jerseyans, his message was clearly aimed at Republicans across the country. Choose leaders, not lecturers; be willing to compromise; stop insisting on ideological purity, he counseled. “We stand here tonight showing that it is possible to put doing your job first, to put working together first, to stand by your principles yet get something done for the people who elected you,” the governor told the crowd gathered in Asbury Park.
Not known for his subtlety, Christie offered a more than a hint at his political future, inviting Washington to look to New Jersey as a model of good governance and a place where Republicans and Democrats have managed to come together to get things done. ”If we can do this in Trenton, maybe the folks in Washington, D.C., should tune in,” Christie said, to cheers. “Tonight, a dispirited America looks to New Jersey to say, ‘Is what I think is happening really happening?’”
Christie was flanked as he campaigned on Monday night by the nation’s first Hispanic governor, New Mexico’s Susana Martinez, who also spoke to a VIP reception for Christie donors as his victory party on Tuesday. Martinez, who was elected in 2010, is one of the politicians Christie admires most, but her presence was also symbolic. Christie bested incumbent Jon Corzine by just four points in 2009; on Tuesday, he built on that victory in part by making inroads with minority groups Republicans have typically struggled to attract. He took home 51 percent of the Hispanic vote, a whopping 19-point increase over his performance among that group in 2009, and 21 percent of the African-American vote, a twelve-point gain.
The governor made clear tonight his gains with those groups were hard-fought, using them to offer another piece of advice to his Republican colleagues. “You don’t just show up six months before an election, you show up four years before; you don’t just take no for an answer, you go back,” he said. “We don’t just show up in the places we’re comfortable, we show up in the places we’re uncomfortable.”
He told CNN earlier in the day that minority voters have been “rightfully suspicious” of Republicans who have extended their hands only during the campaign season. “I think you need to go to those folks for four years and include them in the governing process and then make your pitch during a campaign for why what you did as a governor is worthy of their support when you come up for an election,” he said.
The lineup of speakers at Christie’s VIP gathering offered a window into his world, and his worldview: former New Jersey governor Tom Kean, senior adviser Bill Palatucci, New Mexico’s Martinez, and GOP chairman Reince Priebus. Kean gave Christie his entree into politics when, at age 14, Christie volunteered on his unsuccessful gubernatorial bid; in 1985, Kean would cruise to victory with nearly 70 percent of the vote, winning every one of New Jersey’s 21 counties and all but three of the state’s 567 municipalities (Christie’s message: I’m a winner). Palatucci, Christie’s former law partner, was a George W. Bush fundraiser and adviser, and Christie, with his boasts about working across the aisle and outreach to minorities, is not-so-subtly mimicking the strategy that vaulted Bush to office, with Palatucci as his Karl Rove. Martinez is a Democrat-turned-Republican, a former prosecutor, and a social conservative elected to govern in a blue-ish state. And Priebus, the GOP establishment’s figurehead, will continue to be an ally to Christie, widely seen already as the establishment’s 2016 pick.
Given the anti-establishment fervor that has swept much of the party in recent years, that may come at a cost, and on election day the governor spent time preempting accusations that he is a moderate who will forsake conservative principles for the sake of compromise. ”I’m a conservative,” he told CNN on Tuesday, “I’ve governed as a conservative in this state.” Foreshadowing a likely primary battle, Kentucky senator Rand Paul emerged later in the day with a backhanded compliment: “We need moderates like Chris Christie in New Jersey,” he said. Meanwhile, conservative radio talk show host Mark Levin, without naming Christie, used his show on Tuesday to heap bile on the idea of compromise for its own sake.
As the governor eyes higher office, his political future may be rockier, but tonight, he was content. “For a Jersey kid,” he said, being the governor of New Jersey is “the greatest job you could ever have in your entire life.” The only thing better than being the governor of New Jersey, he told his supporters, ”is being the two-term governor of New Jersey.” One gets the idea, though, there’s another job Christie might like, too.