Christie’s backers argue that his tremendous margin in a deep-blue state and his much-larger-than-normal support from blue-collar whites, women, and minorities show that his appeal transcends partisan boundaries. This contention, however, ignores the context in which those margins were obtained. Plenty of Republicans have done well in non-presidential elections among non-traditional GOP voters. Former New Jersey governor Tom Kean won nearly half of the black vote in 1985; former Jersey City mayor Bret Schundler won reelection in his heavily Democratic city because of his appeal among minorities. Neither result was a harbinger of future GOP success. Schundler was unable to transfer his city appeal to his statewide run for governor, and Kean’s accomplishment remains merely a ripple in an otherwise stagnant sea of GOP support among blacks.
The similar experience of former governor William Weld in Massachusetts is useful to recall. In 1994, this fiscally conservative, socially moderate Republican won reelection with almost 71 percent of the vote. He carried every county in the state, including Boston’s Suffolk County, in which he received 60.4 percent. National speculation grew that the GOP had a winner, and so Weld tried to take a step up to the presidency by challenging Senator John Kerry in 1996.
Weld lost that race by seven and a half points, 52.2 to 44.7 percent, and the race’s geographic breakdown mirrored national election trends rather than those Weld had had in 1994. Weld lost Suffolk by over 30 points, getting barely 30 percent, and dropped over 25 points in most other counties. Voters who were willing to pull the lever for a Republican for a state reelection were unwilling to do so when national issues were thrust to the fore.