On Tuesday, Chris Christie won an overwhelming reelection as New Jersey governor with 60 percent of the general vote and a difference of 22 points over his Democratic rival, State Senator Barbara Buono. He also won over half (51 percent) of the state's Hispanic voters, what represents an improvement of 18 percentage points over his first run for governor in 2009. He also became the first Republican to win the Hispanic vote in gubernatorial races since 1998, when George W. Bush won his reelection in Texas.
A few hundreds of miles South, Virginia’s attorney general Kenneth T. Cuccinelli II lost narrowly the state's gubernatorial race against seasoned Democratic fund-raiser Terry McAuliffe. According to exit poll data, McAuliffe crushed Cuccinelli among Hispanics with 66 percent of the Latino vote. He even topped by two points President Obama’s 2012 Hispanic vote percentage.
What lesson could Cuccinelli and other Republican leaders take out from this? Gov. Christie's campaign, in coordination with the Republican National Committe (RNC), planned out a systematic outreach to Latinos, African Americans and other minorities, and the effort paid off. They hired a full-time director for Hispanic outreach and had been buying ads in Spanish-speaking media since May. As Bob Quasius, founder and president of Cafe Con Leche Republicans told NBC Latino's Sandra Lilley and Suzanne Gamboa,
" ... Christie has demonstrated that Republicans can win the Latino vote, something we’ve been saying now for years. He truly ‘gets it’ when it comes to Latinos, and his engagement is a model for other candidates to follow.”
But would they? When it comes to Latino issues, Mr. Christie's positions stand in stark contrast to the Tea-Party conservative stance that have dominated his party for the past few years. He is a long-time supporter of a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants; he is in favor (reversing his previous position) of in-state college tuition rates for DREAMers; and he lured and got the endorsement of major Hispanic organizations, such as the Latino Leadership Alliance of New Jersey.
But New Jersey’s Latino population and its idiosyncratic political realities--such as its large Cuban-American democratic bloc--are not transferable to the rest of the nation. "What plays in Jersey, may not play in New Mexico, even if that state’s governor was at Christie’s side on the final day of his campaign," says Gamboa in her analysis of election night:
“It is telling that (Christie) won and Cucinelli lost and you know, the party needs to understand whether those are two isolated events or if there is a connection because there were two very different Republican messages, I believe,” said Carlos Gutierrez, former Secretary of Commerce under President George W. Bush who has worked with the GOP to attract the Latino vote.Overall, Christie was a well-liked and formidable candidate who related to Latinos, Gutierrez said. “As many people say,” Gutierrez said, “the candidate makes the difference.”