Gov. Christie Todd Whitman, who won office four years ago by barely beating an incumbent, avoided being upset herself Tuesday by pulling out victory in a surprisingly close race.
With 99 percent of precincts reporting, Whitman had 1,107,225 votes, or 47 percent, to McGreevey's 1,085,639, or 46 percent.
Whitman, a moderate who gained national prominence by making good on a promise to cut taxes, overcame a tough challenge from McGreevey, who fashioned a campaign that took advantage of New Jersey residents' ever-present anger over high auto insurance and property taxes.
Whitman became the first governor in modern state history to win two terms without gaining 50 percent of the vote.
Because the race was so tight, Attorney General Peter Verniero just after midnight asked the state Supreme Court to take jurisdiction over the election. Roger Shatzkin, spokesman for Verniero, said the request was made "to safeguard the process in case anybody wants a recount."
Verniero also directed the state police to go to all 21 county election offices "to ensure that the paper ballots are secure."
It was the first time such a request was made since 1981, when a recount was conducted in the razor-thin race between Republican Thomas H. Kean Democrat Jim Florio. Kean won by just 1,797 votes.
An exit poll found nearly 9 in 10 said the issue of auto insurance was important in making their choice for governor.