TRENTON, N.J. -- Republican Gov. Thomas Kean, winner four years ago of the narrowest governor's election in New Jersey history, swept back into office Tuesday with a near-record landslide over Democrat Peter Shapiro and carried the GOP into control of the state Assembly.
With 77 percent of precincts reporting, Kean had cornered 70 percent of the vote and built a 585,674-vote lead over the underfinanced Shapiro.
Shapiro conceded early in the evening, saying: 'You know, before tonight I ran in nine races and my record was 9-0. When I lose, it's a doozy.'
An ebullient Kean claimed victory about an hour later, invoking the election of Abraham Lincoln as president 125 years ago and saying he is trying to bring New Jersey together as Lincoln tried to unify the nation.
'New Jersey is united tonight as it's never been united before,' Kean said. 'What I want to ask all of us to do is to use our new found strength together for the next four years. I ask you to help me make New Jersey all it should be and all it can be for the next four years.'
Kean first won the governor's office in 1981, defeating Rep. James Florio, D-N.J., by 1,797 votes, a victory margin of one-twelfth of 1 percent. The largest governor's election plurality in New Jersey history was 721,378 votes in 1973, when Brendan Byrne took 68.6 percent of the vote and overwhelmed Republican Charles Sandman.
A prohibitive favorite with a lead of 40 percentage points or more in every major poll leading up to the election, Kean's popularity apparently spilled over into the battle for control of the New Jersey Assembly.
The state GOP latched onto Kean's coattails and won its first majority in 12 years in the lower house of the New Jersey Legislature.
Democrats control the current 80-seat Assembly with a 44-36 majority, but at least seven sitting Democrats were ousted by Republicans in early returns. One Republican also lost, giving the GOP a net gain of six.
Shapiro, 33, the Essex County executive, won a six-candidate Democratic primary in June but was unable to cut into Kean's popularity, despite hard-hitting attacks on the issues of toxic waste cleanup, taxes and auto insurance rates.
Shapiro, hampered by a poor showing in early polls, had trouble raising money and was outspent by Kean by perhaps as much as $200,000.
Shapiro had proposed creating a separate agency to handle toxic waste and pledged not to seek re-election if he failed to clean up at least half of New Jersey's 97 federal Superfund sites.
Kean, who signed one of the strongest toxic waste control bills in the country, claimed New Jersey leads the nation in addressing the toxic waste problem.