Terry McAuliffe and his son Peter leave a polling station Tuesday after he cast his vote.

Story highlights

NEW: The establishment candidate beat the tea party candidate in Alabama primary runoff

Democrat Terry McAuliffe defeats Ken Cuccinelli in race for Virginia governor, CNN projects

Bill de Blasio heads toward becoming first Democrat to lead NYC in 20 years

Chris Christie easily takes another term as New Jersey governor

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.

While both campaigns took on national issues, such as 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 mudslinging and personal attacks. Voters throughout the commonwealth of Virginia were bombarded by negative ads.

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

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

What might 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.

5 things to know about this year’s most important race

Democrat Bill de Blasio has defeated Republican nominee Joe Lhota in the race for mayor of New York City, CNN 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 more than 40%.

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.

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 that hold elections for governor in the year after a presidential contest.

And as a more moderate Republican won in New Jersey and a conservative Republican lost in Virginia, the establishment candidate defeated the tea party candidate in a Republican primary runoff for a congressional seat from Alabama’s 1st district.

Bradley Byrne, a former state senator, defeated businessman Dean Young in the race, according to CNN projections. The contest was seen as a precursor to more intraparty fights ahead in primary elections for the 2014 midterms and was the first time Republican voters could weigh in on which direction they want to take their party after the partial federal government shutdown in October.

Here’s a closer look at some of the night’s most interesting races and ballot measures:

A nasty race in purple Virginia

The McAuliffe and Cuccinelli campaigns engaged in nasty political warfare that took over the airwaves in Virginia. McAuliffe made sure women were aware of Cuccinelli’s support of “personhood” legislation that critics say restricts abortion and some forms of birth control, while Cuccinelli frequently highlighted federal investigations of an electric car company that McAuliffe co-founded.

Both sides also attempted to frame the race as a referendum on larger national issues. Cuccinelli’s supporters argued a vote against McAuliffe was a vote against Obamacare.

McAuliffe and Democrats 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.

Democrat Terry McAuliffe wins Virginia governor’s race, CNN projects

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.

What Christie’s victory means for the next presidential race

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 prekindergarten, 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.

De Blasio expected to win NYC mayoral race

Deep-pocketed Republicans pick winner in Alabama

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

In total, Byrne has raised nearly $700,000, with substantial donations from business community political action groups and individual business donors. Young, on the other hand, has raised $260,000 and has received 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.

However, despite that support for smaller tea party personalities, Young was largely ignored by the national tea party groups. Tea Party Express, Club For Growth and FreedomWorks – three of the largest national tea party groups – sat on the sidelines of the intra-party fight.

Establishment beats tea party in Alabama runoff

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.

The fact that Chris Christie rolled to a second term in New Jersey and Terry McAuliffe won in Virginia wasn’t a surprise. Public opinion polls have consistently shown both men in the lead.

CNN’s Kevin Bohn contributed to this report.