(Updates with New Jersey voting in eighth paragraph. See ELECT for more election news.)
By Mark Niquette
Nov. 6 (Bloomberg) -- New Jersey Governor Chris Christie bolstered his standing as a potential Republican presidential candidate in 2016 by cruising to re-election, while Democrat Terry McAuliffe won the Virginia governor’s race after tying his opponent to the Tea Party movement.
In New York, Bill de Blasio won resoundingly yesterday to become the first Democrat to hold the mayor’s office in the most populous U.S. city since 1993. In his campaign, he called for higher taxes on the wealthiest residents to fight inequality.
“The challenges we face have been decades in the making, and the problems we set out to address will not be solved overnight,” de Blasio, 52, told supporters celebrating inside a Brooklyn armory. “But make no mistake: the people of this city have chosen a progressive path, and tonight, we set out on it together as one city.”
As U.S. residents chose their leaders in off-year elections, voters in six states also decided 31 statewide ballot issues, including imposing a tax of as much as 25 percent on retail sales of marijuana in Colorado and approving as many as seven casinos in New York, according to the Associated Press.
The gubernatorial votes in New Jersey and Virginia were seen as significant for a Republican Party debating its future after the 16-day partial closing of the U.S. government last month exposed a rift between its populist Tea Party and business wings. In a U.S. House of Representatives special-election primary runoff in Alabama, a self-described Tea Party Republican was beaten by U.S. Chamber of Commerce-backed Bradley Byrne.
Christie’s win in Democratic-leaning New Jersey may put him at the head of the early line for the Republican presidential nomination and provides ammunition for the party’s centrists.
“He’s demonstrated an ability to piece together a coalition of voters that looks a lot like what you need to win a national election,” Kevin Madden, a Republican strategist in Washington who advised Mitt Romney’s 2012 White House bid, said by e-mail. “The challenge for him, however, is that the voters who tend to dominate the early Republican primary states don’t all vote like folks in New Jersey.”
Christie, 51, defeated 60-year-old Democratic challenger Barbara Buono, a state senator, 61 percent to 38 percent, with 99 percent of precincts reporting, according to AP. He is the first Republican candidate for New Jersey governor to collect more than 60 percent of the vote since Tom Kean in 1985.
In a speech to 2,000 supporters in the Asbury Park Convention Hall, Christie said Hurricane Sandy brought the state together last year and said its government set a model that contrasts with “dysfunction” in Washington.
“In New Jersey, we still fight and we still yell,” he said. “But when we fight and yell, it’s about the things that really matter.”
In Virginia, McAuliffe, a former Democratic National Committee chairman, defeated Republican Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli 48 percent to 46 percent with all precincts reporting, according to AP.
McAuliffe, 56, and backers including President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden had portrayed Cuccinelli, 45, as an extremist and ally of the smaller-government Tea Party movement.
Last night, McAuliffe thanked his supporters and what he called the “absolutely historic number of Republicans who crossed party lines to support me.”
Reading too much into Virginia’s results would be a mistake, said Jennifer Duffy, senior editor of the Cook Political Report, a Washington newsletter. Still, Christie’s victory showed he could be a presidential contender, she said.
“A really solid win provides Christie with a narrative for 2016: A results-oriented, common-sense Republican can win a blue state,” Duffy said by e-mail.
In New York City, where Democrats outnumber Republicans more than 6-to-1, voters hadn’t elected a Democratic mayor since 1989.
De Blasio beat Joseph Lhota, 59, a top aide to former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, 73 percent to 24 percent, with 99 percent of the precincts reporting, according to AP. The 49-point margin is the most for a nonincumbent in city history and the widest since Mayor Edward Koch won a third term in 1985 by 68 points.
The Democrat will replace Mayor Michael Bloomberg, an independent and founder and majority owner of Bloomberg News parent Bloomberg LP. He was barred from seeking a fourth term.
Voters in more than 300 cities were selecting mayors, according to the U.S. Conference of Mayors in Washington. They included Detroit, where Mike Duggan, a 55-year-old former hospital executive, defeated 58-year-old Wayne County Sheriff Benny Napoleon, 55 percent to 45 percent in a nonpartisan race, according to AP.
Duggan will be the the city’s first white mayor in almost 40 years, heading a municipality where 83 percent of residents are black. Detroiters wanted a change after decades of decline resulted in a record $18 billion bankruptcy and the state-mandated control of Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr. Duggan will wait in the wings to take power until Orr departs.
“The people of Detroit elected me because they wanted someone who’d go into city hall and take on that bureaucracy and get things done that need to be done,” Duggan said. “This was a campaign of unity and it will be an administration of unity.”
In Boston, state Representative Martin J. Walsh will replace Mayor Thomas M. Menino, a Democrat and the city’s longest-serving chief executive. Walsh, a 46-year-old Democrat, won with 52 percent to City Councilor John R. Connolly’s 48 percent with all of the vote counted, AP said.
Across the nation, voters also were deciding statewide ballot issues, imposing the Colorado marijuana taxes, and putting New York in line to be the most populous U.S. state with Las Vegas-style casinos on non-Indian land by approving a constitutional amendment backed by Governor Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat.
Voters also were determining whether about $18 billion of bonds would be issued for schools, hospitals and streets.