By Paul Steinhauser, Ashley Killough and Dan Merica, CNN
Going into Election Day 2013, there was little doubt that Chris Christie was going to win his run for re-election. The only unknown was what he would say in his victory speech.
The tough-talking Republican headliner has the most buzz of any potential 2016 Republican presidential candidate and he created more by delivering a speech that was aimed at both New Jersey and a national audience.
“And you don’t just show up six months before an election. You show up four years before one. And you don’t just take no for an answer the first time no has happened. You keep going back and trying more,” Christie told the audience in Asbury Park.
Republican strategist and CNN contributor Alex Castellanos called Christie’s address “an announcement speech.” And it will only serve to stir up more speculation that despite his saying that he’s seriously considering a run in 2016, his mind is already made up.
CNN exit polls show Christie performed well with groups that normally cast ballots for Democrats. Early exit polls indicate the GOP governor grabbing 56% of the female vote and winning all age groups other than those 18-29. Christie also took a fifth of the African-American vote and 45% of Latinos, a much better performance than most Republicans in recent elections.
Overall, Christie bested his little-known Democratic challenger, Barbara Buono, by a 60%-38% margin with about 90% of the vote counted.
Virginia and New Jersey are the only two states that hold elections for governor in the year after a presidential contest. And Virginia’s race provided the only real drama as votes were counted.
Democrat Terry McAuliffe, a long-time Clinton confidant, trailed Republican state Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli through the evening until votes from Democratic strongholds started rolling in and propelled him to victory.
The race was nasty from the get-go and devolved into incessant mudslinging and personal attacks. Voters throughout the commonwealth of Virginia were bombarded by negative ads and polling showed that neither candidate was particularly well-liked by the people who would be voting for them.
With nearly all of the vote counted, McAuliffe held a 48%-45% margin over Cuccinelli. Libertarian Robert Sarvis pulled in about 7% of the vote, which could have made the difference.
In New York City, the race for mayor was never in question, either, as Democrat Bill de Blasio defeated Republican Joe Lhota, by a 73%-24% margin with 91% of the vote in, making the city’s public advocate the first Democrat to lead the nation’s largest city in a generation.
In Alabama, an establishment candidate defeated a tea party-backed candidate in a Republican primary runoff for the congressional seat from Alabama’s 1st district, which had been seen as precursor of intra-Republican party contests in next year’s midterm elections.
Bradley Byrne, a former state senator, defeated businessman Dean Young in the race by a 52%-48% margin with all of the vote in. The contest was the first time Republican voters could weigh in on which direction they want to take their party after the partial federal government shutdown in October was laid largely at the feet of tea party instigators in Congress.
Here’s a closer look at some of the night’s most interesting races and ballot measures:
A nasty race in purple Virginia
The McAuliffe and Cuccinelli campaigns engaged in nasty political warfare with McAuliffe making sure that women were aware of Cuccinelli’s support of “personhood” legislation that critics say restricts abortion and some forms of birth control, while Cuccinelli frequently highlighted federal investigations of an electric car company that McAuliffe co-founded.
McAuliffe and Democrats pinned Cuccinelli as a tea party activist, linking him to conservative lawmakers in Washington who initiated a strategy that eventually led to the government shutdown.
What does Christie’s win say about 2016?
While much of his address was directed at his New Jersey audience, Christie also had a message for the nation.
“I know tonight, a dispirited America, angry with their dysfunctional government in Washington, looks to New Jersey to say, ‘Is what I think happening really happening? Are people really coming together. Are we really working, African-Americans and Hispanics, suburbanites and city dwellers, farmers and teachers. Are we really all working together.’
“Let me give the answer to everyone who is watching tonight: Under this government our first job is to get the job done and as long as I’m governor that job will always, always be finished,”
NYC picks first Democratic mayor in a generation
At the center of the New York mayor’s race were disagreements over taxes and the city’s controversial “stop-and-frisk” program backed by incumbent Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
De Blasio campaigned on a promise to raise taxes on those earning more than $500,000 a year to pay for universal prekindergarten, an idea Lhota vehemently opposed.
Deep-pocketed Republicans pick winner in Alabama
Byrne, the establishment candidate, far outraised Young, the tea party candidate, thanks to major help from the business wing of the party, including the Chamber of Commerce. He also garnered endorsements from establishment figures, including several Republican House leaders.
However, despite support for smaller tea party personalities, Young was largely ignored by the national tea party groups. Tea Party Express, Club For Growth and FreedomWorks — three of the largest national tea party groups — sat on the sidelines of the intra-party fight.
Also on the ballot
New York is not the only major city that held a mayoral contest on Tuesday. Voters in Boston, Seattle, Detroit and Cleveland also elected mayors.
And voters in six states weighed in on 31 ballot measures. Among the most interesting: genetically modified food labeling in Washington state, a proposed special marijuana tax in Colorado, secession in 11 Colorado counties and a push to raise New Jersey’s minimum wage to $8.25 per hour.
CNN’s Kevin Bohn and John Helton contributed to this report.
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