Christie the Contender

New Jersey's governor has a real shot because he’s viewed as a competent, inclusive and authentic “Washington outsider.”

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Republican New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie signals second term as he stands with his wife, Mary Pat Christie, second right, and their children, Andrew, back right, and Bridget, right, as they celebrate his election victory Tuesday, Nov. 5, 2013, in Asbury Park, N.J.,  after defeating Democratic challenger Barbara Buono. (Mel Evans/AP)
Republican New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie signals second term as he stands with his wife, Mary Pat Christie, second right, and their children, Andrew, back right, and Bridget, right, as they celebrate his election victory Tuesday in Asbury Park, N.J., after defeating Democratic challenger Barbara Buono. (Mel Evans/AP)

Yesterday, Governor Chris Christie sailed to re-election, earning more than 60 percent of the vote. As Sean Trende of Real Clear Politics pointed out, this is not a small achievement. His current two-party vote share (61.4 percent) places his victory margin among the highest in New Jersey for Republicans since 1945.

CNN's exit poll data also reveal that Christie's coalition was broadly inclusive. Along with wining votes from 57 percent of women, 51 percent of Latinos, and 21 percent of blacks, this self-proclaimed "conservative" Republican garnered support from 32 percent of Democrats and 31 percent of liberals. Both independents (66 percent) and moderates (61 percent) fulsomely backed Christie's re-election. Even more intriguing given the dust-up Christie had with Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., a few months back, Christie managed to win 88 percent of those voters who professed to support the tea party.

Still, the question resounds loudly: Does Christie really have a  shot at the Republican presidential nomination in 2016? Isn't he too "moderate"?

[See a collection of political cartoons on the Republican Party.]

As I explained in a post last June, there's no doubt that the nomination's lead-off race in Iowa presents a major hurdle for Christie's presidential aspirations, but a path does exist through the Hawkeye State. If he can generate significant enthusiasm among independents and first-time caucus participants, as Barack Obama did in 2008, then Christie's got a shot at out-performing the religious conservatives who supported Rick Santorum and Mike Huckabee in the last two contests.

Even though some may see this possibility as far-fetched, one cannot dismiss the fact that independent voters in Iowa, like those in New Hampshire, tend to migrate to the cycle's more competitive party contest. In other words, when one candidate is expected to win in a landslide, independents in these states often jump to the other party's contest to cast a ballot in the race where they perceive their vote to be more crucial to the outcome. With Hillary Clinton as an almost prohibitive favorite to win the Democratic nomination in 2016, it seems likely that independents will look to the Republican race for some excitement.

And let's face it: almost all polling suggests right now that the Republicans are going to have much more interesting (read: competitive, but possibly contentious) nomination contest than the Democrats.

[See a collection of political cartoons on the tea party.]

But let's get beyond Iowa. Out of the other early states, New Hampshire may well like the blunt speaking and party-line bucking style that Christie represents. And were he to continue to receive the support of New Mexico's very popular governor, Susana Martinez, both Nevada and Florida would seem within his reach.

That leaves South Carolina, which has traditionally been a “make-or-break” contest for Republicans. Interestingly, however, in the last go-round, South Carolina's primary did not “make” Newt Gingrich or “break” Mitt Romney. And after last night's loss of the Republican's gubernatorial candidate in Virginia, Ken Cuccinelli, one has to wonder if the evangelical faction within the GOP is now on the wane.

Certainly, there's some evidence for that in the early data out of Iowa. A Des Moines Register poll taken in September showed that Republicans in Iowa believed that a “business-friendly, fiscal conservative,” such as Christie, would be more likely to win than a “candidate who emphasizes Christian values.”

Christie's got a real shot. And it's not because he's a “moderate.” It's because he's viewed as a competent, inclusive and authentic “Washington outsider.” Simply put, he's a governor — and a big winner. In politics, nothing succeeds like success.

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