Governor Phil Murphy and his Republican challenger Jack Ciattarelli are battling for the lead as votes come dribbling in, a stunning turn of events that upended the Democratic incumbent's double-digit lead in the polls.
It is too close to call the race—they are within a few thousand votes of each other and the lead is seesawing as returns are reported. It could also take a week to count mailed ballots.
Either campaign can request a recount.
Even though Ciattarelli ran in the 2017 Republican primary for governor, he was largely unknown across the state. But he turned out votes in the Republican stronghold districts of Ocean and Monmouth counties, and also did well in suburbs across the state. Morris County, which had recently been shifting blue, supported the Republican.
Some 500,000 voters mailed their ballots, and no information is yet available about how many of those have been counted. But an unknown amount of ballots will continue to arrive by mail. Ballots postmarked by election day can be counted until next Monday.
New Jersey has 1 million more registered Democrats than Republicans. Both of the state’s U.S. Senators are Democrats and both chambers of the state legislature are blue. But gubernatorial races have been much less predictable and a Democrat hasn’t won re-election since 1977.
The state has more independent voters than members of either party, and that silent majority spoke yesterday. New Jersey also has the highest property taxes in the nation, and that issue has toppled previous Democratic governors, despite taxes rising just as much under Republican governors.
Ciattarelli focused his campaign on those high taxes and hit Murphy in advertisements and in two debates over a video tape of Murphy saying if taxes are your issue, then New Jersey probably isn’t your state.
Murphy says that quote was taken out of context, because he was speaking to a business group and explaining that New Jersey will never be able to compete with low-tax states, but that businesses come for the highly-educated workforce, the proximity to major cities, and the state’s mass transit.
Ciattarelli promises to lower taxes and redistribute the extra funding that poor school districts are given to suburban communities.
Murphy spent much of the campaign trying Ciattarelli to Donald Trump, calling him an extremist and pointing out that Ciattarelli attended a “Stop the Steal” rally in New Jersey on the day of the U.S. Capitol riot. In the final weeks of the campaign, the Democratic Party’s biggest names visited the state, including President Joe Biden, former President Barack Obama and Vice President Kamala Harris.
Murphy completed almost every one of his 2017 campaign promises and was often described as the most progressive governor in the country. He raised the minimum wage, made earned sick leave mandatory, boosted funding for pre-K schools, made community college free to those who can’t afford it, worked to legalize marijuana and raised income taxes for people who earn more than $1 million a year.
But he couldn’t shake the image that he raised taxes on everyone.