Gail Collins / Let's talk about the NEXT president!

Chris Christie wins big, launching 2016 speculation to new heights

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Chris Christie! He won! Let's talk about his presidential prospects incessantly for the rest of the month!

Then we will take a short break for the holiday season. Then ring in 2014, which means just two years until Chris Christie goes to the Iowa caucuses!

Mr. Christie's sweeping victory in New Jersey was certainly the big story of Tuesday's elections. Although I personally think it was interesting that Boston picked a new mayor who's working on his 19th year of sobriety on the same day that the mayor of Toronto admitted he had smoked crack, "probably in one of my drunken stupors." Who knew that Toronto would turn out to be more enthusiastic than Boston when it comes to substance abuse?

And let's take a quick look at Virginia, where Democrat Terry McAuliffe narrowly defeated Republican Ken Cuccinelli. How do you feel about that one, people? Are you surprised the margin wasn't wider given that Mr. Cuccinelli had expressed wildly right-wing views on issues ranging from climate change to abortion, leading to a campaign that forced voters to mull their views on global warming, sodomy and transvaginal ultrasounds?

Or are you amazed that the Democrats won this one at all, with a candidate who admitted -- practically bragged -- that while driving his newborn son home from the hospital, he stopped to make a 15-minute appearance at a political fundraiser while infant and weeping wife sat in the car?

"I felt bad for Dorothy, but it was a million bucks for the Democratic Party," Mr. McAuliffe said in his autobiography.

Honestly, it was a miracle anybody in Virginia showed up to vote. I did like Mr. Cuccinelli's breakout attack theme: "All puppy and no plan." Let's hope that one resurfaces during the presidential race. Which is just around the corner, presuming the corner lasts for 26 months.

Presidential! That brings us back to Chris Christie, the man of the hour. Even though he's a Republican in a deep blue state, he won a huge victory against -- um, the Democrat. Who was ... named ... Barbara Buono.

Ms. Buono was battling odds that made the Alamo look like a quick game of Parcheesi. She's a 20-year veteran of the state legislature, a resume that always inspires excitement among the electorate. She had about a quarter of Mr. Christie's budget for ads. Nobody from the Clinton family went to New Jersey to campaign for her. Some days, it seemed as if nobody from New Jersey was showing up, either.

"The Democratic political bosses ... made a deal with this governor, despite him representing almost everything they're against. They didn't do it for the state. They did it to help themselves politically and financially," Ms. Buono said on election night, in a speech that centered on the terribleness of her own state party.

In a place that's dominated by one political party, like New Jersey, the electorate often picks somebody from the other side to be governor, in hopes that he or she will keep a lid on things. Mr. Christie is sort of a larger and louder version of New York's George Pataki, who I believe has been in New Hampshire trying to drum up presidential primary interest since 2006.

Mr. Christie sees himself as a scrappy guy fighting against impossible odds, but he's actually been wildly lucky. Politically, he's in a perfect position. To his left, the New Jersey legislature and the county bosses. To his right, the crazy national Republican Party. He gets everything in between!

"The people of New Jersey rewarded me last night for the personal relationship that we have," he told a news conference Wednesday.

Mr. Christie has been suggesting, very, very frequently, that his success is all about personality. That certainly makes sense, since his major actual achievement as governor was to get everyone to agree on a plan to bail out the public employee pension fund ... soon.

Is he the tough-talking truth-teller the nation is yearning for? Critics in New Jersey say the governor's main administrative talent is for balancing a budget with imaginary revenues. But even if Mr. Christie was really the candidate he claims to be, we're not the electorate we imagine we are. Who was the last person to get to the White House without a public persona that was smooth and affable? Richard Nixon? Harry Truman? I hear John Adams was kind of prickly.

Could Mr. Christie survive a presidential race when he couldn't even get past the Mitt Romney vice presidential vetting process? There's all that stuff about exploding expense accounts and his prior career as a lobbyist for the securities industry. True, the people of New Jersey have looked into his past and come away satisfied. But, really, in New Jersey you're just happy to know a candidate is not currently under indictment.

We have so much to discuss. Thank God we've got 790 more days until the Iowa caucuses.

Gail Collins is a syndicated columnist for The New York Times. Sally Kalson is off today.



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