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Thursday, June 20, 2024 | Back issues
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Murphy reelected, bringing tight NJ governor race to a close

The race marks the first time in decades that New Jersey has reelected a Democratic governor but, separated by just a few thousand votes, it also forecasts a tough midterm ahead.

(CN) — Beating his Republican opponent by a scant 19,000 votes, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy secured a term with 90% of the vote in by Wednesday at 6:40 p.m.

To chants of “four more years, four more years,” Murphy took to the stage Wednesday evening in the seaside city of Asbury Park to note the historical nature of his win: His race marks the first time in more than four decades that New Jersey voters reelected a Democratic governor.

“If you want to know what the future looks like, folks, come to New Jersey,” Murphy told the crowd, as he recounted a few of the feats of his first term, saying he raised taxes on millionaires, funded Planned Parenthood and women’s health, fostered clean energy, and led the Garden State through the pandemic.

“Tonight, I renew my promise to you — whether you voted for me or not — to work every single day of the next four years to keep moving us forward,” said Murphy, who was once was the ambassador to Germany.

Combined with GOP victories in Virginia, Murphy's narrower-than-expected result has only added to Democrats' worries about midterm elections in 2022.

The Garden State typically holds its gubernatorial race in the off-year following a presidential election when most voters head to their precincts to decide local races and questions. It is a race political watchers often use to divine how the national parties may fare in the upcoming midterm elections held the following year.

In an interview about the race, Matthew Hale, an associate professor of political science at Seton Hall University, compared Murphy's performance in 2021 against that of four years before. He found that four Democratic counties — three in the northeastern part of New Jersey and the fourth across the Delaware River from Philadelphia — supported Murphy with less vigor.

Ticking off some of the factors he said might be blamed for the underperformance, Hale noted that Murphy’s reelection campaign suffered from an enthusiasm gap and that the rosy polls dampened aggressive spending and door-knocking.

And then there was Murphy’s messaging: Rather than attacking his opponent’s policy proposals outright, Murphy focused on trying to tie Assemblyman Jack Ciattarelli to former President Donald Trump — a charge that did not quite stick.

Jack Ciattarelli speaks at his election night party in Bridgewater, N.J., early Wednesday, Nov. 3, 2021. (AP Photo/Stefan Jeremiah)

Though he attended a “Stop the Steal” rally at the end of 2020, Ciattarelli ultimately stated that Biden was the rightful winner of the presidential election. He also announced previously that he had sat out the 2016 elections.

Against this backdrop, the incumbent governor headed into Election Day as the favored candidate to take the race. President Joe Biden won the state the year before by almost 16 points, and polling back in early June showed that Ciattarelli faced a lack of name recognition. Murphy on the other hand had the support of a little more than half of New Jersey voters polled, as well as strong headwinds, such as a better-funded campaign in a state that has a million more registered Democratic voters than Republican.

During his first term, Murphy worked to create a phased adoption of a $15-an-hour minimum wage, greenlit recreational marijuana and funded community college with taxpayer dollars, bringing progressive policies to the governor’s mansion previously occupied by Republican Chris Christie.

Ciattarelli meanwhile focused on cutting taxes and growing the economy. On the campaign trail, he tried to paint the governor as out of touch and criticized his leadership during the Covid-19 pandemic.

That it almost worked is an important lesson for Democrats.

“New Jersey is a Democratic state, but it is a centrist Democratic state,” Hale, the professor, said. “And so, Phil Murphy running as a progressive is not the best fit, and that’s a message that could be important nationally.” 

Speaking to supporters Tuesday evening, Ciattarelli said his campaign sent a message to the state and to the nation.

"This is what I love about this state ... every single time it’s gone too far off track, the people of this state have pushed, pulled and prodded right back to where it needs to be,” Ciattarelli cajoled the crowd.

By Wednesday morning, the ballot count showed some 2.3 million New Jerseyans had voted, and that Murphy was leading by 1,200 votes.

Ciattarelli’s campaign initially injected suspicion about the results, even while touting the new legislative seats Republicans had won, saying they were "focused on making sure all the legal votes are counted and our citizens can have confidence in the system.”

Under New Jersey law, either campaign has 17 days to file lawsuits in the counties where they seek a recount.

Follow @jcksndnl
Categories / Government, Politics, Regional

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