Projections: Christie Wins NJ Re-election; McAuliffe Wins in Virginia

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Credit: Eric Marrapodi/CNN

(CNN) — Democrat Terry McAuliffe, buoyed by strong results from voters in Northern Virginia, has defeated Republican Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli in the race for Virginia’s governor, CNN projects.

Credit: Terry McAuliffe Campaign via CNN

Credit: Terry McAuliffe Campaign via CNN

While both campaigns took on national issues, like the partial government shutdown earlier this year and the health care law’s flawed rollout, the race was nasty from the outset and devolved into incessant mud-slinging and personal attacks. Voters throughout the commonwealth of Virginia were bombarded by negative ads from the campaigns.

Libertarian Robert Sarvis, a third-party candidate, has pulled in 7 percent of the vote with more than 90 percent of the vote in, a significant chunk when the Republican and Democratic candidates are so close.

What may make results from Virginia — along with races including a gubernatorial contest in New Jersey, a race for mayor in New York City and a primary battle for a U.S. House seat in Alabama — most interesting is what they may tell us about 2014 midterms and the 2016 race for the White House.

Democrat Bill de Blasio has defeated Republican nominee Joe Lhota in the race for mayor of New York City, Edison Research projects, making the public advocate the first Democrat to lead the nation’s largest city in 20 years.

After de Blasio won the Democratic nomination in a crowded and circus-like field earlier this year, the liberal Democrat’s victory in the general election was never in question. All polls going into the election had de Blasio defeating Lhota in a landslide, with one released Monday indicating de Blasio was ahead of Lhota with likely voters by over 40 percent.

Earlier Tuesday night, in another long-predicted result, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie won four more years leading the Garden State by defeating Democratic state Sen. Barbara Buono in the state’s gubernatorial race.

Credit: Eric Marrapodi/CNN

Credit: Eric Marrapodi/CNN

Christie’s victory became a forgone conclusion long before polls closed in New Jersey, as public opinion polls for months have indicated the tough-talking Republican headliner was far ahead of his Democratic challenger.

There are national implications to the race, too. With Christie considering a run for the GOP presidential nomination in 2016, his re-election campaign is seen as a tuneup or stepping stone for that likely White House bid.

According to CNN exit polls of New Jersey voters, 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.

Virginia and New Jersey are the only two states to hold elections for governor in the year after a presidential contest, putting them directly in the national political spotlight.

After voting Tuesday morning, Christie told CNN’s Jake Tapper that he is not just a moderate Republican in a traditionally more liberal state. “I’m a conservative, and I’ve governed as a conservative in this state and I think that’s led to some people disagreeing with me in our state, because it’s generally a left-of-center, blue state,” he said. “But I think that the difference has been is I haven’t tried to hide it, or mask it as something different. I just tell people, ‘This is who I am.'”

Polls have also closed in the primary runoff for Alabama’s 1st district and the race between former State Senator Bradley Byrne, seen as a more establishment candidate, and businessman Dean Young, a tea party candidate, is still too close to call.

A nasty race in purple Virginia

McAuliffe will go on to succeed Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell, who’s not running for re-election because Virginia governors cannot serve consecutive terms.

The two main campaigns have attempted to frame the race as a referendum on a larger national issue.

Cuccinelli’s supporters argue a vote against McAuliffe is a vote against Obamacare. McAuliffe and Democrats have pinned Cuccinelli as a tea party activist, linking him to conservative lawmakers in Washington who initiated a strategy that eventually led to last month’s government shutdown.

On top of the national connections, the two sides have also engaged in nasty, personal political warfare that has taken over the airwaves in Virginia. McAuliffe has made sure women are aware of Cuccinelli’s support of “personhood” legislation that critics say restrict abortion and some forms of birth control.

Cuccinelli has frequently highlighted federal investigations of an electric car company that McAuliffe co-founded.

While McAuliffe has an advantage over his Republican rival, neither candidate is particularly well-liked. The Quinnipiac Poll released Monday showed 42% of likely voters had a favorable opinion of the Democrat, while 45% had an unfavorable view. Cuccinelli also had a negative favorability rating, 38% to 52%.

Cuccinelli has particularly struggled to gain support among women and unite the commonwealth’s GOP base as a whole.

High-profile surrogates have come out to bat for the two main gubernatorial hopefuls. President Barack Obama, former President Bill Clinton, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Vice President Joe Biden have all hit the trail for McAuliffe.

Cuccinelli, meanwhile, has had visible support from GOP Gov. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana, Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky and former GOP presidential candidate Mike Huckabee of Arkansas. Former Rep. Ron Paul also endorsed the attorney general and headlined an event for Cuccinelli on Monday night.

If McAuliffe wins, he would break a long streak in Virginia gubernatorial contests. In the last nine elections, the political party controlling the White House lost the governor’s race.

Republicans control 30 of the nation’s governorships.

What Christie’s 2013 re-election bid tells us about 2016

Christie performed well with groups that normally cast ballots for Democrats.

Early exit polls indicate the GOP governor grabbing 55% of the female vote, and winning all age groups other than those 18 to 29. Christie also took one fifth of the African-American vote and half of the Latino vote, a much better performance than most Republicans in recent elections.

NYC picks first Democratic mayor in a generation

At the center of the 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 pre-kindergarten, an idea Lhota vehemently opposed.

While Lhota painted himself as a fiscal conservative, he sought distance from national Republicans on social issues by reiterating his support of abortion rights and same-sex marriage.

Fight for GOP plays out in Alabama Republican primary

The Alabama seat came open when Republican Rep. Jo Bonner resigned in August to take a position within the University of Alabama system. Although the winner will just become the Republican nominee, not the next congressman, the district has not elected a Democrat since 1965 and whichever Republican wins the runoff is almost certain to win the general election.

Tuesday’s race was the first time since the partial federal government shutdown in October that Republican voters could weigh in on which direction they want to take their party. The race has been seen as a precursor before more intra-party fights ahead in primary elections for the 2014 mid-terms.

Byrne has far outraised Young thanks to major help from the business wing of the party, including the Chamber of Commerce, and garnered endorsements from establishment figures, including several Republican House leaders.

Young, meanwhile, has gotten donations from a political action committee run by former Nevada Republican Senate candidate Sharron Angle, a darling of the tea party movement, as well as endorsements from conservative talk show hosts Mark Levin and Erick Erickson, and a lot of support from Christian conservatives.

While both men are conservative, the race may hinge on who is viewed as the most conservative. Byrne has said he would only vote to raise the debt ceiling if it is part of a larger deal, while Young has vowed not to support an increase at all and said over the weekend he would not vote for Republican John Boehner as House Speaker.

Because of the negative political impact of the 16-day government shutdown, which Americans mostly put at the feet of tea party-backed members of Congress, groups such as the Chamber of Commerce have said they will be more involved in primary fights next year. Their aim would be to elect candidates who don’t have such strident views and to help prevent tea party candidates from stopping their agenda of keeping the government open, pushing for comprehensive immigration reform and overhauling the tax code.

Also on the ballot

New York is not the only major city holding a mayoral contest on Tuesday. Voters in Boston, Seattle, Detroit, and Cleveland are also electing mayors.

And voters in six states will be weighing 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.

By CNN’s Paul Steinhauser, Ashley Killough and Dan Merica.

CNN’s Kevin Bohn contributed to this report.