Whitman Notches Another Term
By Kathleen Hayden/AllPolitics
NEWARK, N.J. (AllPolitics, Nov. 4) -- New Jersey's Republican Gov. Christie Whitman successfully fought back a tough challenge from Democrat Jim McGreevey to win a second term.
The fiercely competitive Garden State race went down to the wire, with the race too close to call until all the ballots were in. Throughout the night, Whitman's camp suffered a scare as a one-point lead repeatedly swapped between their candidate and the Democratic challenger.
Just after midnight, McGreevey appeared unannounced before his supporters to concede the race to Whitman. Congratulating "our governor" on her re-election, the Democrat repeated many of his campaign themes.
"I know in my heart that the hard-working middle class families of this state need a governor, need a legislature to address the nuts-and-bolts issues. New Jersey has the highest auto insurance rates in the nation. And frankly, we all need to do better, Democrats and Republicans," McGreevey said.
Calling New Jersey "a tough state," Whitman soon afterwards claimed her victory. "When people stopped and thought, in spite of all they were hearing from all the other candidates and all the other groups out there that were saying not terribly nice things about me ... they looked at where this state was, and they looked at where this state was going and they said they want this Republican team to continue to move New Jersey forward."
Both candidates mounted frantic last-minute pushes to win over the uncommitted. Whitman embarked on a 97-stop, 10-day bus tour while McGreevey continued his grueling fight late into Monday night and again early Election Day.
Pre-election polls had warned that McGreevey was within striking distance of the Republican party star and some 18 percent of New Jersey voters were still undecided in the waning days of the campaign.
First elected in 1993, Whitman swept into office with a come-from-behind win against then-incumbent Democrat Jim Florio. Whitman, a moderate Republican, fast became one of the party's most high-profile women, appearing on GOP presidential nominee Bob Dole's short list of vice presidential choices in 1996.
During Whitman's four-year tenure, New Jersey has enjoyed growing economic prosperity, with unemployment hitting a seven-year low and welfare rolls cut 31 percent.
With those numbers to bolster her bid, Whitman's re-election was considered a cakewalk, and odds tipped further in her favor when McGreevey, a relative political unknown, emerged as her main challenger.
McGreevey, mayor of Woodbridge and a state senator, defeated two other Democrats in the June 3 primary to challenge Whitman.
A clear underdog, McGreevey attacked the incumbent where her record was weakest, hammering on key local issues, particularly the state's high auto insurance rates and property taxes. New Jersey leads the nation in average auto insurance premiums ($1,169) and average property taxes ($3,864).
His strategy made inroads with Garden State voters, and polls showed him narrowing the gap. Surveys taken right before the election showed the race too close to call.
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Tuesday Nov. 4, 1997
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