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How did Christie and McAuliffe win over voters in N.J., Va. governor races?

November 6, 2013 at 12:00 AM EDT
On Election Day, Americans cast their vote for new leaders and contentious ballot measures, from New Jersey to Washington State. Judy Woodruff speaks to New York Times' correspondent Jonathan Martin about the takeaways behind gubernatorial wins for Republican Chris Christie of New Jersey and Democrat Terry McAuliffe of Virginia.
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JUDY WOODRUFF: Voters and political experts alike spent this day absorbing the results of the off-year elections of 2013. The races were marked by low voter turnout, but the winners claimed bragging rights and mandates all the same.

GWEN IFILL: Both parties scored wins, and several of the nation’s major cities made big breaks with the past. Some of the results also have implications that could reach all the way to the White House.

Voters in two Eastern states rendered a split decision Tuesday in high-profile governor’s races. In New Jersey, Republican Chris Christie scored a 22-point reelection victory in a mostly Democratic state, boosting his possible presidential hopes in 2016. He touted his ability to overcome partisan divisions and challenged Congress to do the same.

GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE, R-N.J.: Now, listen, I know that if we can do this in Trenton, New Jersey, maybe the folks in Washington, D.C., should tune in their TVs right now, see how it’s done.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

GWEN IFILL: In Virginia, Democrat Terry McAuliffe scored a narrow three-point win, replacing Republican Bob McDonnell. He, too, struck a bipartisan tone.

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TERRY MCAULIFFE, D-Va. governor-elect: I understand that emotions are raw. I have been there. I get it. So, while I promise you tonight that I will be a governor for all Virginians, the real test is my actions when I take office. I expect you to hold me to my pledge to work with both sides.

GWEN IFILL: Republican Ken Cuccinelli, a social conservative in the Tea Party mold, fell short, but he reassured supporters that their message had been heard.

KENNETH CUCCINELLI, R-Va. gubernatorial candidate: The more Virginians see their liberty eroded through a bigger government and an out-of-control health care law, which is the leading example of it right now, the more brightly, not the less brightly, the more brightly that flame of liberty is going to burn in Virginia. And that’s why this battle is not over with this race.

GWEN IFILL: Another Tea Party candidate was defeated in Alabama’s 1st Congressional District, where Bradley Byrne beat out fellow Republican Dean Young.

Election Day also featured a series of big city races. In New York, Bill de Blasio became the first Democrat elected mayor since 1989, thrashing Republican Joe Lhota by nearly 50 points.

BILL DE BLASIO, D-N.Y.: The challenges we face have been decades in the making. And the problems we set out to address will not be solved overnight. But make no mistake. The people of this city have chosen a progressive path.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)  

GWEN IFILL: Voters in bankrupt Detroit threw their support behind Mike Duggan, the city’s first white mayor in 40 years.

WOMAN: I think Mike Duggan’s got a plan to get the city back together.

GWEN IFILL: Duggan campaigned on his experience saving Detroit’s largest hospital system, and he promised to help the struggling city find its way back to financial health.

MIKE DUGGAN, Detroit mayor-elect: My record is turning things around and getting them fixed. And we can get this city going in the right direction.

GWEN IFILL: In Boston, Martin Walsh won the race to succeed outgoing Mayor Tom Menino, who’d held the office for 20 years.

Voters around the country also used direct initiatives to make their voices heard. In Washington State, a measure to require the labeling of genetically modified food was defeated, and an effort to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour in the Seattle suburb of SeaTac was on its way to approval. Official results will not be certified until later this month.

In Colorado, voters agreed to a 25 percent tax on recreational marijuana, but they balked at raising income taxes to expand school funding. Tuesday’s voting also sounded the likely death knell for the 48-year-old Houston Astrodome. It may be headed for demolition after supporters lost on a bond proposal to convert it to a convention site.

JUDY WOODRUFF: For more on the contests in Virginia and New Jersey, we turn to Jonathan Martin of The New York Times. He joined me a short time ago from their newsroom.

Jonathan Martin, welcome.

And let’s start with Virginia, since that’s a state that’s lately been reflecting the way the whole country goes. Terry McAuliffe, former Democratic Party chair, takes the governor’s seat away from the Republicans. What — what were the voters saying here?

JONATHAN MARTIN, The New York Times: Well, I think they’re saying that they want somebody in Virginia who is more of a centrist than a movement conservative.

Virginia has always been a state that rewards moderation in its politicians. What has changed, though, in recent years is that the center has moved in Virginia. It was traditionally, Judy, a center-right state. Now it’s a pretty firm centrist state. And, frankly, in presidential election years, it’s center, even a shade to the left.

So, I think the message here is that they want to have governors who are going to focus on kitchen table issues jobs, roads, schools, those kinds of things. And they found Terry McAuliffe to be somebody who would do that more than Ken Cuccinelli.

JUDY WOODRUFF: How did McAuliffe do it? Which voters did he end up winning over?

JONATHAN MARTIN: Yes.

Well, the key for Terry McAuliffe was Northern Virginia. It’s a third of the state’s votes, the population hubs of Fairfax, Arlington, Alexandria, Prince William County, and he did very well there. He did especially well among women and, among that subset, among unmarried women. And that, you can chalk up to the fact that he ran a very aggressive TV ad campaign, as anybody who lives in the Washington, D.C., area knows, focusing on his opponent Ken Cuccinelli’s views on issues like abortion rights and contraception.

And I think that’s what — what really helped him, helped Terry McAuliffe with women in Northern Virginia. You know, it’s a very diverse state, and it’s got elements that are basically Appalachia. It’s got elements that are basically the Northeast, and it’s got elements that are very much like the South.

And the key, though, is that the population center is entirely in the suburban, centrist, progressive parts of the state, and that’s where Terry McAuliffe cleaned up.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But, of course, the man he defeated, Ken Cuccinelli, went out saying that the Tea Party had sent a message in this campaign.

Contrast that with the kind of campaign Republican Chris Christie ran in New Jersey.

JONATHAN MARTIN: Yes.  

Well, just real fast on Virginia, let’s give Ken Cuccinelli some credit, because he basically was outspent 10-1 in the final days of the campaign, largely abandoned by his own party, and he made a race that a lot of folks thought was going to be a landslide about 2.5 points, a much more competitive race than many of the polls indicated.

In New Jersey, Judy, you saw somebody who — in Chris Christie, who is a politician that has what is very clear a remarkable hold on the voters of his state. This is a Republican running in a very Democratic state, a state that has not gone for a Republican presidential nominee since 1988, and Governor Chris Christie won in a landslide. Why did he do that?

Well, I think a part of it is because he had a bit of a halo after his response to superstorm Sandy a year ago. His response to that was widely praised in his state. But I think it’s also because he had a sort of forceful personality and was seen as somebody who was willing to get things done in Trenton, not always a place where there’s much that — that happens productively.

And I think that that trumped the traditional ideological challenges for a Republican in New Jersey.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Right. He was a Republican who ended up appealing to a lot of Democratic voters.

JONATHAN MARTIN: He sure did.

If you look at the exit data, he actually won a lot of Democratic voters. He actually won the very people that his party’s having trouble with on the national level, African-Americans, Hispanics, women. His people are very much aware of that and were going all-out last night to remind reporters of just those demographic inroads, because obviously he wants to try making a case that he perhaps in 2016 could take that kind of strength onto the national scene.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And that’s — and that’s what people are going to be continuing to watch him for.

JONATHAN MARTIN: Yes. Yes, indeed.

JUDY WOODRUFF: All right, Jonathan Martin, The New York Times, thank you.

JONATHAN MARTIN: Thank you, Judy.