New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy declared victory Wednesday after fending off a strong challenge from Republican candidate Jack Ciattarelli that stunned the national political establishment.
Murphy became the first Democrat to win a second term as the Garden State’s governor since Brendan Byrne in 1977. But the closeness of the result in a state President Biden won by 16 percentage points just 12 months ago may be a bigger shock for Democrats than even Republican Glenn Youngkin’s come-from-behind win in the Virginia race for governor.
“If you want to know what the future looks like, come to New Jersey,” Murphy told supporters in Asbury Park Wednesday. “If you want to understand where America is heading, look to New Jersey. And, if you want to be governor for all of New Jersey, you must listen to all of New Jersey. And New Jersey, I hear you.”
“So 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,” Murphy added. “Forward with renewed optimism to ensure greater opportunities for all 9.3 million who call this great state home.”
The Associated Press called the race just before 6:30 pm Wednesday. As of 11 p.m., with 90 percent of the expected vote in, Murphy had 50.2 percent of the vote compared to 49 percent for Ciattarelli. The candidates were separated by fewer than 30,000 votes out of more than 2.4 million cast.
Ciattarelli had yet to concede the race Wednesday night and his campaign criticized the AP’s call.
“With the candidates separated by a fraction of a percent out of 2.4 million ballots cast, it’s irresponsible of the media to make this call when the New Jersey Secretary of State doesn’t even know how many ballots are left to be counted,” communications director Stami Williams tweeted.
Thousands of mail-in and provisional ballots were still being counted Wednesday, and NJ.com reported that some counties had yet to report figures from the heavily Democratic early vote. Once those were tallied up, Murphy was likely to hold an insurmountable lead.
Ciattarelli was in front for much of Tuesday night as results were reported, rolling up big margins in traditional Republican territory. In Ocean County, for example, Ciattarelli took 68 percent of the vote and surpassed Chris Christie’s vote total from 2009.
Ciattarelli also carried Gloucester and Morris counties by 10 and 14 percentage points, respectively, after both voted for Biden 12 months ago. The Republican also won by double digits in Atlantic and Cumberland counties, both of which backed Murphy in 2017.
The results ultimately pointed to a potentially painful year ahead for Democrats as they try to maintain thin majorities in Congress.
The 64-year-old 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.
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.”
“He will, but right now it is about him winning,” she said.
In contrast to the closely watched gubernatorial race in Virginia, the New Jersey contest was an afterthought as polls showed Murphy enjoying a comfortable lead over Ciattarelli.
As recently as last week, a Stockton University poll of likely voters showed Murphy leading his challenger by 9 percentage points. A Monmouth University poll of registered voters published a day earlier showed Murphy up by 11 points.
While a trio of polls published on the eve of the election showed Ciattarelli closing the gap on Murphy, no poll put him closer than 4 percentage points and the final RealClear Politics polling average showed the Democrat up by 7.8 percentage points.
With Post Wires