Republican Chris Christie has been elected the next governor of New Jersey, defeating Democrat Jon Corzine to become the first member of his party elected to statewide office in the Garden State in 12 years.
"Hey, New Jersey, we did it," Christie said before a crowd of cheering, exhilarated supporters as he embarked on a victory speech few thought he would be in a position to deliver. "This election tonight is not about me … and candidly, it's not about many of you. This election was and is about the future of the state we love – the great state of New Jersey."
"Times are extraordinarily difficult, but I stand here tonight full of hope for our future, full of expectations and dreams, not just for my children, but for all the children of New Jersey," Christie said. "Tomorrow, together, we begin to take back New Jersey."
Corzine supporters had been holding out hope after initial reports called the race in favor of his opponent, but he made the call to Christie to concede at about 10:30 p.m. As the incumbent's supporters began to file woefully into the ballroom, none with a smile on his or her face, one union representative said, "it's gonna be a tough four years."
Corzine thanked his supporters just before 11 p.m. for giving him courage and strength and cheering him on throughout a long, hard-fought campaign.
"We will work hard together to make sure that the transition is smooth, that we are able to do everything that serves the people of this great state," Corzine said in his concession speech. "That's my responsibility, that's our responsibility, that's my administration's responsibility, and I know we'll live up to it."
"There's a bright future ahead for New Jersey if we focus on what matters in people's lives and I guarantee you, I'm going to work on that for the rest of my life," he said.
Christie, a former U.S. Attorney General, led the race the whole way, maintaining a lead of no less than 5 percentage points throughout the night. Buttressed by Corzine's unpopularity, a poor economy, statewide corruption and frustration with the status quo, the Newark-born Republican became the first member of the GOP elected governor since Christie Whitman in 1997.
About the GOP rise to power in Trenton, Whitman said, "We are sick of being the butt of late-night talk show hosts because another of our 42 mayors were hauled off to jail."
Christie has run a campaign based on ushering in a new era of politics – of cutting property taxes by slashing state spending and ending corruption in state government. Renowned for his record on busting corruption, Christie's office won convictions or guilty pleas from 130 public officials on both sides of the aisle on state, county and local levels without losing a single case.
The multi-millionaire Corzine had outspent Christie nearly three to one, but New Jerseyans' anger at the handling of the state's $29 billion budget, the highest property taxes in the nation and a corruption sweep that nailed dozens of public officials this year, had some leaning toward a third candidate – Independent Chris Daggett.
In his speech, Daggett gracefully thanked his supporters and his family for their loyalty, and told his backers they should unite behind tonight's victor because it's that unity that'll return the state to a prosperous course.
"Whoever wins tonight deserves our full and total support," Daggett said.
Check out our reporters' notebook for the latest on the New York, New Jersey, Long Island and Westchester races.