New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie cruised to re-election Tuesday, giving Republicans a bright spot in an off-year election, while Terry McAuliffe eked out an unexpectedly close win against Kenneth T. Cuccinelli II in the race for Virginia governor.
Mr. Christie’s 20-point win demonstrated how Republicans can win in blue states and potentially positioned him as a counterweight to the tea party in the 2016 GOP presidential primaries.
In Virginia, the results were a far cry from four years ago, when Republicans swept the top three statewide offices.
Mr. McAuliffe, who had been ahead in polls by as much as 8 percentage points in the closing days of the election, won by about 40,000 votes — or less than 2 percentage points out of about 2 million ballots cast.
A hoarse Mr. McAuliffe, speaking at the Sheraton Premiere in Tyson’s Corner, thanked his family and his supporters and Republicans who crossed party lines to vote for him.
“The truth is this election was never a choice between Democrats and Republicans, it was [about] whether Virginia would continue the bipartisan cooperation that has served us so well.”
The Democrat withstood a late charge by Mr. Cuccinelli, who found success near the end of the campaign painting the race as a referendum on President Obama’s health care reform. The Republican lost ground during the partial federal government shutdown last month, for which polling had shown voters held the GOP disproportionately accountable.
Third-party candidate Robert Sarvis pulled about 7 percent of the vote — enough, as many predicted, to swing the contest despite Mr. Cuccinelli’s efforts to siphon off the Libertarian’s supporters.
“I’m proud that we ran on first principles and serious ideas based on [those] first principles,” said an emotional Mr. Cuccinelli, who thanked his wife, Teiro, his family and many others. “This is no ordinary governorship.”
Republican lieutenant governor candidate E.W. Jackson lost to Democrat Ralph S. Northam, 55 percent to 45 percent, potentially costing Republicans the tie-breaking vote in a state Senate that is deadlocked between the two major parties.
Republicans were left to pin their hopes of avoiding a sweep of the top three statewide offices on attorney general candidate Mark D. Obenshain, who led Democrat Mark R. Herring by less than 1 percentage point — a margin that automatically triggers a recount.
But the Democratic wins amounted to a repudiation of Republicans, who just four years ago were celebrating the victories of a slate of GOP candidates — Gov. Bob McDonnell, Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling and Mr. Cuccinelli.
The win reversed a trend dating back to the 1970s of the party opposite the one occupying the White House winning the governor’s race the year after a presidential election. It also marked the first time since the 19th century that a party has lost control of the state’s Executive Mansion after just one term.
Soon after the polls closed, Republican Party of Virginia Chairman Pat Mullins addressed a crowd still filling into the downtown Richmond Marriott. His message was clear.