New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a Republican, won re-election Tuesday by a landslide in a state President Barack Obama won by 17 points in 2012. And he did it by winning support from 57 percent of women voters, 51 percent of Hispanic voters, 21 percent of African-American voters and 32 percent of Democratic voters. Those numbers have Republican Party leaders' heads exploding with joy, after getting trounced in the 2012 presidential election with voters other than aging white men.
But some experts are pushing back against the correlation between Christie's ability to win over women and minority voters in New Jersey and the appeal he would have in a widely speculated 2016 presidential bid.
"Christie won a majority of women and a majority of men and we haven't seen a Republican candidate do that successfully in a very long time," says Jennifer Lawless, government professor and director of American University's Women and Politics Institute. "But he didn't have to cater to the right wing or the tea party groups in New Jersey in order to win the general election; in a Republican presidential primary he would. The things that made women or Democrats not turn away from him might be issues he can't avoid in a presidential election."
Lawless says it was easy for Christie to win over voters who don't traditionally vote for Republicans because his opponent, state Sen. Barbara Buono, was seen as a loser.
"I don't think that anybody thought that Barbara Buono was going to win this race and so it wasn't a difficult case for a lot of people to cross party lines and get on the bandwagon of the winner," she says.
Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., and chair of the Democratic National Committee, told MSNBC's Chuck Todd Wednesday morning that the party viewed it as a "personality win" for Christie.
The larger-than-life, straight talking Christie embodies the stereotypical New Jersey attitude, something voters found appealing – particularly the way he eschewed partisan politics for state pride when it came to lobbying for emergency funds to rebuild following Hurricane Sandy. Recent Republican presidential nominees have hewed to their right flank in order to win the favor of powerful conservatives in early primary states, such as Iowa and South Carolina.
George W. Bush worked from a "compassionate conservative" evangelical base; John McCain in 2008 largely abandoned his "maverick" reputation and ran as an establishment candidate; and in 2012, former Massachusetts moderate Mitt Romney pitched himself to GOP voters as "severely conservative."
Jess McIntosh, a spokeswoman for Emily's List, a group that supports pro-choice Democratic women candidates, says that's why any presidential run would include a more thorough vetting of Christie's position opposing abortions.
"As soon as Chris Christie is turning his attention on 2016 – and I think that happened last night – we're going to start hearing more about those policy positions and the direction he actually wants to take this country in, which I think is going to be surprising to a lot of women," she said. "He's been able to sort of coast on this late night talk show personality ride and that certainly won't be the case if he's part of the 2016 field. Women voters won't settle for less than a thorough airing of his policy positions and neither will his Republican primary opponents."
But Christie's success in New Jersey wasn't accidental. He said he supported comprehensive immigration reform and spent years courting a more diverse voting base in New Jersey, holding more than 100 town hall meetings, many in predominantly black neighborhoods, according to The New York Times.
Christie highlighted his effort during his election night victory speech, using it as an opportunity to school fellow Republicans on how to appeal across party and demographic lines.
"I know that if we can do this in Trenton, N.J., then maybe the folks in Washington, D.C., should tune in their TVs right now and see how it's done," he said. "We don't just show up in the places where we're comfortable, we show up in the places we're uncomfortable. You don't just show up 6 months before an election."