As expected, Democrat Terry McAuliffe defeated antigay Republican Ken Cuccinelli in the race for Virginia governor Tuesday, while, also as expected, Republican incumbent Chris Christie won another term as governor of New Jersey over Democrat Barbara Buono.
The Virginia race, however, was unexpectedly close, as polls had shown McAuliffe with a big lead over Cuccinelli, the state's ultraconservative attorney general. By about 10 p.m. Eastern, CBS News, Fox News, and some other outlets had called the race for McAuliffe, in what CBS termed “a surprisingly razor-thin victory.” The virulently antigay Republican candidate for lieutenant governor of Virginia, E.W. Jackson, also went down to defeat.
LGBT issues figured prominently in both Virginia and New Jersey. As Virginia’s attorney general, Cuccinelli had sought unsuccessfully to reinstate the state’s antisodomy law, even though the U.S. Supreme Court in 2003 ruled all such laws unconstitutional. He also had advised public universities in the state to rescind LGBT-inclusive antidiscrimination policies.
In a debate with McAuliffe, Cuccinelli referred to “the personal challenge of homosexuality,” and a fund-raising email from his campaign invoked the threat of ministers being imprisoned for teaching “Christian morals,” something often used as code for anti-LGBT sentiments.
McAuliffe, the former head of the Democratic National Committee, is a supporter of LGBT rights, including marriage equality. In another debate, McAuliffe denounced Cuccinelli’s “mean-spirited attack … on gay Virginians.”
For lieutenant governor of Virginia, Democrat Ralph Northam, currently a state senator, easily defeated Jackson, a minister who had called gay people “sick” and “perverted,” and subsequently denied doing so even though his remarks had been recorded.
As New Jersey’s polls closed, the Associated Press, CBS, and others called the race for Christie, who has been governor since 2010. He won “by a comfortable margin,” and “virtually no one ever thought the outcome might be different,” as CBS put it. He is considered a moderate Republican but attempted to block marriage equality in his state. He vetoed a marriage equality bill passed by the legislature and appealed to the state Supreme Court to keep a lower court’s decision legalizing same-sex marriage from going into effect last month; he withdrew the appeal at the last minute.
He has often said marriage equality should be subject to a popular vote, a stance that drew the ire of opponent Buono, a state senator who has a lesbian daughter. In an October debate, Christie said, “I trust the people of New Jersey to make this judgment. I don’t trust 121 politicians with political agendas.” Buono responded, “My daughter, who is openly gay, is not a political agenda.”
Christie is considered a likely 2016 presidential candidate. Exit polls today, however, put him slightly behind probable Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, according to ABC News.