THE Republican Party has been looking for a political star to rival the likes of Barack Obama or Bill Clinton, and last night there were credible reports that one was rising over the eastern state of New Jersey.
It isn't just the margin of Chris Christie's re-election to the New Jersey governorship that excites the Republican Party establishment, but his underlying performance with women, African-Americans and Hispanics that marks him out as a candidate of tantalising possibility.
It is principally the party's failure to connect with those voters that has ensured that Republicans have lost five of the last six popular votes in US General Elections, as year-by-year America's changing demographics narrow the Republican road to the White House.
The heavyweight governor easily emerged as the undisputed early front-runner for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination yesterday after winning a thumping re-electionvictory in a heavily Democrat state.
By taking nearly 60pc of the vote – the same margin by which Barack Obama was re-elected in 2012 – Mr Christie took a big step on to the national political stage.
He wasted no time in pressing his credentials as a pragmatist and a dealmaker, using his acceptance speech to contrast his ability to cut deals with Democrats with the bipartisan gridlock in Washington that caused last month's US government shutdown.
In his broad New Jersey accent, he said: "I know that tonight if dispirited America, angry with their dysfunctional government in Washington, looks to New Jersey to say, 'Is what I think happening, really happening?' Are people coming together? Are we really working, African-American and Hispanics, suburbanites and city dwellers, farmers and teachers. Are we really all working together?' Let me give the answer to everyone watching tonight. Under this government, our first job is to get the job done." His words were read as a clear challenge to the uncompromising Tea Party wing of the Republican Party, which is warring with party leaders in Washington who see Mr Christie's brand of pragmatism as a better election proposition than conservative zealotry.
Mr Christie's position as the man who could win the White House was bolstered by his strong performance with women, young people and ethnic minorities – key demographics that Republican candidates have alienated in recent campaigns.
Among the numbers exciting Republican strategists was the 57pc of women voters who voted for him – even though his Democratic opponent was female – as well as more than half of Hispanic voters, and 20pc of African Americans, more than double his tally in his first election in 2009.
"This is a huge win for Christie and the biggest win by a Republican politician in New Jersey for a generation," said Patrick Murray, a New Jersey pollster. "These numbers are just what he needs for him to turn around and say he's the kind of Republican that can win."
Despite his front-runner status, Mr Christie would have to overcome several negative factors, Mr Murray added, including his personal appearance – he weighs an estimated 20 stone – and a hot-tempered personal style.
"He's a master at controlling the message, but it remains to be seen if his New Jersey style will translate on the national stage. He can blow a fuse, and while that hasn't hurt in New Jersey, do that in the corn fields of Iowa and that might be not so easy to shrug off," said Mr Murray.
Mr Christie's pragmatic politics contrasted sharply with the ideological bent of Ken Cuccinelli, the Republican candidate for governor in Virginia, who lost out by 2.5pc to the Democrat challenger Terry McAuliffe, a top fundraiser for Bill and Hillary Clinton.
Mr Cuccinelli, whose agenda included abstinence-only sex education and once trying but failing to ban gay sex, was attacked by both Democrats and moderate Republicans as too far outside the mainstream of modern American life.
But he performed better than expected, aided by a backlash against the Mr Obama's health reforms.
Conservatives were angry that the party establishment had failed to fund Mr Cuccinelli adequately. However, senior Republican officials said the problem was with Mr Cuccinelli as a candidate.
"The contrast is obvious. Christie is a guy that grows the party," one said.
"The donors would not play for Cuccinelli because they saw him as too radical." (©Daily Telegraph, London)