New Jersey Governor Christie exits a polling station after casting his vote during the New Jersey governor election in Mendham Township, New Jersey
By Victoria Cavaliere
ASBURY PARK, New Jersey (Reuters) - New Jersey Republican Governor Chris Christie resoundingly won re-election on Tuesday, winning support across the political spectrum and immediately challenging Washington to follow his lead in a victory speech that could be seen as a start to the 2016 presidential campaign.
The blunt, tough-talking incumbent had been expected to win. His margin of victory, more than 20 percentage points by an early estimate, showed a possible path to the White House for a Republican party struggling nationally with a revolt by its conservative Tea Party wing.
Christie won votes from Republicans, Democrats and independents, and in his speech he dwelled heavily on his philosophy of working with those who voted against him, as well as allies.
"It is possible to put doing your job first, to put working together first, to fight for what you believe in yet still stand by your principles and get something done for the people who elected you," Christie told hundreds of cheering supporters at the Asbury Park convention center.
"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 and see how it's done," he added, in what could be seen as a rebuke to Tea Party Republicans as well as Democrats, whose difficulty compromising nearly drove the federal government to default last month.
"That was not an acceptance speech. That was an announcement speech," CNN analyst Alex Castellanos said after Christie spoke.
The next presidential election is still three years away, and Christie, while widely expected to run, has not declared he will do so. The win should let him approach national donors with confidence.
"Obviously it lets him make a claim that he's the kind of Republican who can get Democratic and minority votes," said David Redlawsk, a polling expert and professor of political science at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey.
Christie was projected the winner, within minutes of the polls closing, by CNN, CBS and NBC. He was ahead of his Democratic challenger, state Senator Barbara Buono, by 60 percent to 38 percent, according to late but incomplete results on NJ.com.
"He speaks his mind. It's not all sound bites, which is refreshing," said Gregory Christie, of Wall, New Jersey, adding he was not related to the governor.
"(He can) work well across the aisle," he added. "That's very important to me."
Christie had the support of 23 percent of Democrats, 52 percent of women, 42 percent of Hispanics and 19 percent of blacks among likely voters, according to a Monmouth University poll released on Monday.
"The challenge for Christie is that right now, that's not necessarily a winning message within the Republican Party," Rutgers' Redlawsk said. "The Republican Party still has a battle to fight within itself between purity and electability."
WORKING ACROSS THE AISLE
A former prosecutor, Christie has been highly visible working with Democrats, such as newly elected U.S. Senator Cory Booker, the former mayor of Newark.
He notably praised President Barack Obama last year for his response to New Jersey's needs after Superstorm Sandy devastated the state. That gesture, which Christie explained was part of his job, infuriated many national Republicans who thought it hurt their presidential candidate, Mitt Romney, days later at the ballot box.
Christie's popularity has remained high since the storm swept ashore and caused billions of dollars in damage and displaced hundreds of thousands of people.
Rutgers' Redlawsk added that another challenge for Christie will be how his "Jersey attitude" plays nationally. The governor is known for engaging in shouting matches and hurling insults - a habit seen as refreshing by his fans and rude by his critics.
"It's hard to know how that's going to play when people start thinking about the guy being president and talking to world leaders with whom we might disagree," Redlawsk said.
Christie also is willing to poke fun at himself, making jokes about his weight, which he struggles with, and appearing on comedy television shows such as "Saturday Night Live" and "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart," where he once explained his penchant for name calling.
"If you are an idiot, I'm going to call you an idiot," Christie said. "And if you don't like it, then stop acting like an idiot."
(Writing and additional reporting by Ellen Wulfhorst; Editing by Dina Kyriakidou, Peter Henderson and Lisa Shumaker)