ASBURY PARK, N.J. (AP) — The 2016 overtones were clear in this year's two most high-profile elections.
Republican Gov. Chris Christie's resounding re-election victory in Democratic-leaning New Jersey sets the opening argument for a possible White House run while Terry McAuliffe's gubernatorial victory gives fellow Democrats — if not his confidante Hillary Rodham Clinton, herself — a road map for success in the pivotal presidential swing-voting state.
Christie became the first Republican to earn more than 50 percent of the New Jersey vote in a quarter-century. McAuliffe is the first member of the party occupying the White House to become Virginia governor since 1977.
Among a slate of off-year balloting from coast to coast, New York City voters also elected Bill De Blasio, making him the first Democrat to lead the nation's largest city since 1989. Colorado agreed to tax marijuana at 25 percent, and Houston rejected turning the Astrodome into a convention hall, likely dooming it to demolition. Alabama Republicans chose the establishment-backed Bradley Byrne over a tea party-supported rival in a special congressional runoff election in the conservative state.
Turnout was relatively light — even in the most hard-fought races. Without presidential or congressional elections on the books, voters were primarily hard-core partisans. But to win, both gubernatorial victors sounded a tone of pragmatic bipartisanship — at a time of dysfunctional divided government in Washington — and, because of that pitch, they managed to cobble together a diverse cross-section of voters from across the political spectrum.
In Virginia, McAuliffe eked out a smaller-than-expected victory over conservative Republican Ken Cuccinelli. Exit polls found Cuccinelli fared well among core right-flank constituents — tea partyers, gun owners and rural voters. But the victor, McAuliffe, held advantages among unmarried women, voters who called abortion a top issue and the vote-rich Washington suburbs.