NJ Gov. Murphy pulls out win after unexpectedly close race with Republican Ciattarelli

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy barely pulled off a win Wednesday after an extremely close race with Republican candidate Jack Ciattarelli.

The Associated Press called the race just before 6:30 pm Wednesday, nearly a day after the polls closed.

While Murphy held on for a second term, the closeness of the result may be a bigger shock for both him, and the Democratic Party nationally, than even Republican Glenn Youngkin’s come-from-behind win in the Virginia race for governor. 

The two states’ results were particularly alarming to Democrats because of where they happened. Biden carried Virginia by 10 points last year. He took New Jersey by more than 15. Given the scale of those victories, neither state was seen as especially competitive when this year’s campaigns began.

But the first major elections of Biden’s presidency showed growing discontent among voters. They also underscored that, with former President Donald Trump out of office, Democrats can no longer center their messages on opposition to him.

The results ultimately pointed to a potentially painful year ahead for Democrats as they try to maintain thin majorities in Congress.

And they put a new focus on congressional Democrats’ inability so far to pass Biden’s massive domestic policy legislation, though it’s unclear whether the defeat will be enough to jolt his party into action.

Murphy’s victory came after an intense back and forth over that lasted into Wednesday morning between the two candidates as both leapfrogged each other multiple times. At one point, Ciattarelli held the lead by less than 500 votes.

On Tuesday night, both candidates held off on declaring victory, saying they would wait until “every vote” was counted.

Murphy was declared the winner Wednesday night with 50.02 percent (1,210,997 votes) to Ciattarelli’s 49.23 percent (1,191,703 votes).

Murphy, 64, was first elected as governor of New Jersey in 2017, succeeding Republican Chris Christie. Murphy’s time in office was marked by his response to the coronavirus pandemic, which many criticized as overbearing — particularly when it came to mask mandates for children. 

NJ Gov. Phil Murphy talks to a student in a pre-K class.
Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy becomes the first Democratic governor to win reelection in New Jersey in over 40 years.
Mary Altaffer/AP

Just last week, Republicans slammed the governor after campaign staff revealed on hidden camera that he is concealing plans for broad vaccine mandates after the upcoming election. 

The video, released by Project Veritas, showed Wendy Martinez, who works Hispanic outreach for the campaign, tell an undercover reporter that Murphy would implement widespread mandates like California, but the plan can’t be revealed because “right now it is about him winning​.”

“He’s going to do it, but he couldn’t do it before the elections because ​[​independent ​and undecided ​voters are​]​ all into all the s–t, my rights, my s–t,”​ Martinez said, adding, ​”​And they don’t care if they kill everybody.”​

Jack Ciattarelli, Republican candidate for New Jersey governor, speaks at his election night party in Bridgewater, N.J., early Wednesday, Nov. 3, 2021.
Jack Ciattarelli speaks at his election night party in Bridgewater, N.J., early on Nov. 3, 2021.
Stefan Jeremiah/AP

“He will, but right now it is about him winning​,” she said. ​

Throughout the election, Murphy held a lead over Ciattarelli, despite the 59 year old appearing to be closing in on the governor in a number of late polls. Murphy’s lead in the polls led many to believe Tuesday would be an easy win for the incumbent, sparking surprise in many when Ciattarelli held on so long.

From 2011 to 2018, Ciattarelli served in the New Jersey General Assembly representing the 16th legislative district. In 2017, he attempted to run for governor but came up second in the primary to Kim Guadagno.

Taxes emerged as top issue for voters amid the election, with 27 percent of voters naming that as the top issue in a recent Monmouth University poll that Ciattarelli 11 percentage points behind Murphy — 51 percent to 40 percent, as New Jersey has the highest property taxes in the country.

Despite the hefty lead Murphy carried, 39 percent voters said Ciattarelli could be trusted more to handle taxes than Murphy, for whom 29 percent said he could be trusted. 

New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy speaks to volunteers.
Throughout the election, Murphy held a lead over Ciattarelli, despite the 59-year-old appearing to be closing in on the governor in a number of late polls.
Eduardo Munoz/REUTERS

Voters also placed jobs, the economy, schools, education and COVID-19 as top issues to care about. 

Murphy and Ciattarelli battled it out for hours Tuesday and Wednesday as counties struggled with quickly reporting early and absentee vote counts while districts in Essex and Passaic counties accidently closed voting machines before they could be tallied.

While New Jersey residents waited to see who their next governor will be, Virginia saw Republican Glenn Youngkin upset former Gov. Terry McAuliffe in the state’s gubernatorial election. 

— with Post wires