(CN) — Republican Jack Ciattarelli will go head-to-head with incumbent Democratic Governor Phil Murphy this fall after winning the New Jersey Republican primary Tuesday.
The former assemblyman and entrepreneur ran his primary campaign on the idea of “fixing” the Garden State. Ciattarelli said if he beats Murphy he plans to grow the economy, make the state an affordable place to live, and work on legal immigration and affordable and accessible health care.
Ciattarelli sought the same nomination four years ago but fell short in the primary.
This year, however, he raked in nearly $7 million in donations and won with nearly 50% of the vote as of 11:30 p.m., according to results compiled by the New York Times.
Self-described “Trump Republican” Hirsh Singh was thought to be Ciattarelli’s toughest competition, seeing as the two men were the only candidates to qualify for a debate.
But Pastor Philip Rizzo, who has also labeled himself as a Trump candidate, is beating Singh out for second place, 26% to 22%.
Rizzo raised nearly $100,000 more than Singh but did not qualify for the debate due to missing the deadline to report fundraising numbers.
He has praised former President Donald Trump throughout his campaign, and used the slogan “Make New Jersey Great Again.” Rizzo also held a fundraiser at Trump’s golf course in New Jersey.
Singh, however, claimed he was the only true pro-Trump candidate in the race and called Rizzo a RINO — Republican in name only. Trump did not endorse any candidate in the GOP primary.
At the polls Tuesday morning in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, Mike Smith, a self-proclaimed conspiracy theorist, said he voted for Rizzo, citing Second Amendment rights as his top issue when voting.
“I’m hearing a lot of bad stuff about Jack and Singh, so I’m going to vote for the lesser of two evils, which is Rizzo,” Smith said.
Smith added he was looking for the most “MAGA” candidate he could get and believed that Singh was a poser.
“I don't believe in politicians for the most part, and I just think they're going to say whatever they have to say so they can get into office,” said Smith. “I think if you blow by all that garbage the real guy would be Rizzo.”
Accountant Brian Levine also appeared on the ballot for the gubernatorial nomination, but was only able to muster about 3% of the votes.
Compared to last year's elections in New Jersey, Tuesday’s primary was overwhelmingly held in person. Covid-19 hit the state hard, and many residents have been critical of the pandemic-related restrictions imposed by Murphy.
But some voters say he’s doing the best he can.
“He’s not doing so bad, maybe they should open the state a little sooner,” said voter Beverly Wright at a Cherry Hill polling location. “But he’s doing fantastic, I’m not kidding.”
Running unopposed, Murphy was swiftly declared the winner for the Democratic primary.
“I’m honored and humbled that my fellow Democrats have once again put their faith in me to serve as their nominee for Governor of New Jersey,” Murphy said in a statement. “I’m confident that voters will choose facts and our shared values over divisive rhetoric and the failed ways of the past that worked for too few and left too many behind.”
A Rutgers-Eagleton survey released Tuesday found that Murphy is polling way ahead of his new competitor Ciattarelli, 52% to 24%.
If Murphy is reelected in November, he will be the first Democrat to have a second term since the 1970s.
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