Along with Virgina, New Jersey is one of two states to hold their gubernatorial elections the year after the presidential election. And just as with Virginia, this makes New Jersey's elections a portent of political trends.
In 2009, the initial honeymoon period of Barack Obama's presidential victory was wearing off, and the first stirrings of the Tea Party were forming. In that year, Chris Christie, formerly the federal District Attorney for the state of New Jersey, challenged the incumbent governor, Jon Corzine. New Jersey is a Democratic state, and challenging an incumbent is never easy, but Christie benefited from gathering skepticism of Obama's agenda, as well as the different electorate that occurs during an off-year election. He defeated Corzine by a narrow plurality, 49%-45%.
Christie has been a popular governor in New Jersey, and the 2013 was considered to be an easy win for him. His opponent was Democratic State Senator Barbara Buono, who was widely considered to not have a chance against Christie. And indeed, Christie won the election 60%-38%. The results of the election are not that interesting, but the meaning of it is.
In 2009, Christie's election was seen as sign of nascent dissatisfaction with President Obama. In 2013, Christie's victory was seen as a repudiation of the Tea Party movement. After all, one of Christie's most famous acts was his literal and figurative embrace of Obama in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. New Jersey is a liberal state, and Christie's success there is a sign that a Republican can be popular in a liberal state, if his attitude (if not his actual policies) are seen as accommodating and inclusive. The fact that Christie won handily in New Jersey while Cuccinelli lost in Virginia has not been lost on anybody as a sign of what the tastes of the electorate are.
There was already speculation about Christie's further political ambitions, with a run for the presidency being mentioned. This strong victory has strengthened this speculation, and while we don't know what the future holds, Christie as a contender in 2016 seems like a very real possibility.