How big of a victory is big enough for Chris Christie?
The New Jersey governor is expected to easily win his reelection bid next month — even the most hardcore, hopeful Democrats don’t dispute that — but victory alone is not the goal.
So does that mean Christie needs a 10-point win? 15? 20?
“They’re hoping that there's 2 in front of it,” Patrick Murray, director of the Monmouth University Polling Institute, said of the margin he believes Christie’s team is aiming for.
The most recent Monmouth University survey gave Christie a 19-point lead over Buono among likely voters, and 56 percent of the vote.
Hank Sheinkopf, a New York-based Democratic strategist, said Christie will have to at least surpass a 15-point margin of victory to make a strong case to Republicans nationwide about his 2016 viability.
“A victory of 15 points plus will tell Republicans across the country that Christie has the ability to win Democratic votes in every blue state,” he said.
Christie’s poll lead over Buono during the gubernatorial campaign has ranged from 42 points at the beginning of the year to the most recent sub-20 percent lead. Murray doesn’t expect that to slip much further before the Nov. 5 vote.
Christie’s advisers refuse to give a specific margin they’re hoping to hit — and continue to downplay expectations.
“We're focused on winning and that's it,” Mike DuHaime, one of Christie’s top advisers, told The Hill.
DuHaime said Christie’s team would be happy to nab 50 percent of the vote — a rare feat for Republicans in the state.
“I understand people will look at the margin. But it's New Jersey. People need to historically look at where New Jersey ranks. We haven’t had a Republican get more than 50 percent of the vote since 1985.”
Still, the need for Christie to deliver a crushing victory is evident.
His 2016 primary success, GOP strategists say, will depend on his ability to sell himself as the most electable candidate nationwide, and a convincing win in a state as reliably blue as New Jersey will help him make that argument.
Former New Jersey Gov. Tom Kean, a longtime mentor to Christie, predicted Christie would comfortably top 50 percent because he has significant crossover appeal among independents and Democrats.
Kean was the last Republican to top 50 percent, who won 71 percent of the vote in 1985, the highest win margin in New Jersey history.
“He had more Democratic support than I had. Openly, he’s had the endorsement now of probably the most powerful Democrat in New Jersey, [Essex County Executive Joe DiVincenzo], labor unions,” Kean said.
“Every time you get that kind of an endorsement, it's not only getting you votes, it’s taking votes from the other side. That’s a big deal.”
State Sen. Joe Kyrillos (R), a close Christie ally who served as his 2009 campaign chairman, said “the early signals are that he’s going to do quite well.”
But “everyone has to remember its still New Jersey, it’s still a very blue state,” he said.
President Obama carried New Jersey by almost 19 points in 2012.
Kyrillos said Christie’s ability to win big with “a unique coalition” — comprised of voters from demographic groups like Latinos, blacks and women — would bolster his national credibility because those are the very groups the GOP needs most to be competitive in presidential campaigns.
“It bodes well for him as he leads the state, and as we govern the state the next four years,” he said. “And should he decide to look at 2016, it’s noteworthy for people around America looking for a leader that can bring us together and keep America great.”
Almost as important to Christie as the overall margin, Murray said, is winning a plurality of Hispanic voters.
To that end, Christie has released Spanish-language ads and made campaign stops in cities where he won with only single-digit portion of the vote in his 2009 election.
Christie’s supporters believe a massive win in a blue state would quiet his critics on the GOP right, who question his ideological purity.
Many grassroots conservatives believe Republicans lost the White House and the Senate in 2012 because they nominated candidates who compromised on GOP values, like presidential nominee Mitt Romney.
But establishment and centrist Republicans feel the problem was many of their candidates didn’t appeal to the demographic groups that make up a growing swath of the electorate — women, minorities, young voters.
“I think there is a little bit of fatigue in the party for losing,” DuHaime said. “Folks who care about governing care about winning.”
Ryan Williams, a former Romney spokesman, says the 2016 election may be the perfect opportunity for the ‘electability argument’ to prevail over ideological purity.
“In 2012, it was really Governor Romney and kind of the flavor of the week. It allowed the grassroots who didn’t buy electability as an argument to really coalesce around one person to oppose Romney,” he said.
His chances of being viewed as the party’s most electable 2016 contender are being aided by Buono, a weak gubernatorial opponent who became the party’s nominee in New Jersey after a number of potentially stronger candidates opted out and has had trouble even exciting her base.
The optics of a Republican defeating a Democratic woman in a blue state could win over Republicans who are eyeing a potential showdown with Hillary Clinton in 2016.
“If he does well with women against a female candidate, that will really show that he has a strong claim to the electability argument for 2016,” Williams said. “There’s the very strong potential that he will be running against Hillary Clinton.”