Former state Assemblyman Jack Ciattarelli came out swinging against Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy on Tuesday night, saying the man he wants to oust in November will be “one and done in ‘21″ after he triumphed in the Republican primary over three rivals.
Within minutes of the race being called in his favor, Ciattarelli was behind a microphone taking shots at Murphy, a Massachusetts native whom he characterized as a wealthy outsider out of touch with New Jerseyans.
“Fix the damn state,” Ciattarelli said at his victory party in Somerset after winning the GOP nod to challenge Murphy in the Nov. 2 general election.
“Here’s Phil Murphy’s problem: He wasn’t raised here, never went to school here, never owned a business here. He’s somebody else. I’m you,” Ciattarelli, a lifelong Somerset County resident, said. “I mean, have you seen this guy eat pizza?”
“He’s not New Jersey,” Ciattarelli added. “And in January 2022, he’s not our governor.”
Sports. Vacations. Nothing was off-limits Tuesday night.
Ciattarelli slammed Murphy for his allegiance to his native New England teams and over the 23-room mansion in Italy he purchased in 2004 for about $7.3 million.
“New Jersey is where I vacation, on LBI, while Phil Murphy jets off to his villa in Italy. This is where I root for the Yankees, while Phil Murphy is cheering for the Red Sox,” Ciattarelli said.
Murphy, meanwhile, declared victory minutes after the polls closed as he went uncontested in the primary in his run for a second term. As he thanked his supporters in videos and statements, Murphy didn’t bother to mention his opponent by name.
“There are some that want to take us back to the way things were before — when New Jersey only worked for the wealthy and the well connected,” Murphy said. “We cannot go back.”
Ciattarelli may have won the Republican primary, but a pair of challengers who aligned themselves to former President Donald Trump and both ran under the slogan “Make New Jersey Great Again” had a combined 47% of the vote with 69% of the voting precincts counted shortly before 11 p.m.
Phil Rizzo had 25.7% of the vote and Hirsh Singh garnered 21.7%. Together, they were within striking distance of Ciattarelli’s 49.5%.
Unlike Murphy on election night, the Democratic Governors Association didn’t hold any punches.
“After a bruising primary full of infighting and Trump-loyalty tests, Jack Ciattarelli has managed to crawl into the general election,” Noam Lee, the DGA’s executive director, said in a statement. “Ciattarelli spent the primary running scared in an attempt to win over the far-right and now heads into November as an extreme candidate who’s out of touch with New Jersey values.”
In a speech Tuesday night, Murphy said Democrats “make decisions based on the truth.”
”Look at the debates the other side of the aisle was having at this Republican gubernatorial primary,” the governor continued. “These folks made decisions based on a pack of lies, made on myths, or they put their finger in the air and see which way the political winds are blowing.”
Ciattarelli also has an uphill battle to introduce himself to voters if he’ll have any chance at ousting Murphy in November, according to a Rutgers-Eagleton Poll released Tuesday.
More than half of registered voters (52%) don’t know who Ciattarelli is, while another 26% have no opinion. The survey also shows 12% say they have a favorable view of Ciattarelli and 11% have an unfavorable opinion.
Among Republicans, 25% have a favorable view of Ciattarelli while 12% have an unfavorable opinion, and 41% don’t know him.
Murphy, meanwhile, leads by 26 percentage points, with 52% of registered voters in the blue-leaning state favoring the Democratic incumbent and 26% picking his challenger, according to the poll. In general, asked whether they’d vote to re-elect Murphy, consider voting for someone else, or definitely vote for someone else, 42% said they’d definitely choose Murphy, while 31% would go with another candidate, and 21% are on the fence.
But Ciattarelli on Tuesday night said he’s up for the challenge.
“This campaign isn’t going to be easy,” he said. “It’s going to be hard. Real hard. And that’s OK by me. … I’m here to fix New Jersey.”
NJ Advance Media staff writer Brent Johnson contributed to this report.
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