The polls all showed the tidal wave for "change" that carried
Barack Obama into the White House in 2008 had ebbed in 2012. The
question on Tuesday night was whether it had receded enough to break
for Mitt Romney.
Unemployment remained too high. Obama's stimulus law and health insurance overhaul were toxic in some states. And his campaign went from inspiring voters about the future in 2008 to targeting swing state voters, warning about the future if Romney won.
But in New Jersey - a state coping with a higher unemployment rate than the national average - Obama saw a slight boost over 2008. It became the only state in the country where Obama won four years ago and garnered even more support this year.
There were signs that superstorm Sandy played a key role in the president's performance in the state, according to Monmouth University pollster Patrick Murray.
"He was always going to win, it was just the margin," said Murray, adding that polls before the storm showed Obama getting less support than in 2008. "Now he's won by more than he did four years ago. That's all due to Sandy."
According to exit polls, some 53 percent of New Jersey voters, compared with 42 percent nationwide, said Obama's handling of the storm was an important factor in their vote. And among those who said it was important, 77 percent voted for Obama, who went to the Jersey Shore two days after the storm and got high marks from Governor Christie for the federal response.
Election returns on Tuesday night, which could change significantly when tens of thousands of paper and electronic ballots are counted, showed that Obama carried 14 of New Jersey's 21 counties -- the same counties he won in 2008.
While overall turnout was down, Obama received 58 percent of the vote, up from 57 percent in 2008. This happened despite the continued popularity of the Republican governor New Jersey elected the year after going overwhelmingly for Obama. Christie was a top Romney supporter, and traveled the country giving speeches slamming Obama. But after Sandy hit, Christie praised the president's response.
To be sure, New Jersey was always in Obama's corner, and exit polls show some reasons why: 59 percent of voters want the health insurance law that Romney promised to repeal to be left alone or expanded; 57 percent support raising taxes on those making more than $250,000; and 81 percent said most illegal immigrants should be offered a chance to apply for legal status.
Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez, who campaigned on all three issues, also got 58 percent of the vote against Republican challenger Joe Kyrillos. Menendez and Obama each carried 14 of the state's 21 counties, including the typical Republican strongholds of Somerset and Burlington.
Obama may have focused his energies in swing states, and even drafted New Jersey volunteers to go into Pennsylvania. But Menendez also worked with the state Democratic Party to make sure a coordinated ground game was running for his race, even though plans had to be rewritten when Sandy hit.
"Bob Menendez campaigned the way I campaign: Assume you're down, and keep slugging away until 8 o'clock comes," said John Wisniewski, chairman of the Democratic State Committee and an assemblyman from Sayreville. "He didn't leave any stone unturned, and he didn't give up raising funds to get his message out until he got that Senate
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