Jack Ciattarelli, a former New Jersey assemblyman, will challenge Democratic Governor Phil Murphy in November after winning the Republican nomination in the state’s primary election. No Democrat has won the seat twice since 1977.
Ciattarelli, 59, a retired businessman and former state Assembly member, defeated three Republican challengers: One ran a grassroots campaign, and two were die-hard Donald Trump fans in a state that twice voted against him for president. Ciattarelli as a lawmaker was critical of Trump, but has attended at least two rallies in his support, including one in November where attendees falsely claimed that Democrat Joe Biden stole the presidential election.
Murphy, 63, a retired Goldman Sachs Group Inc. senior director and former U.S. ambassador to Germany, ran unopposed in Tuesday’s primary. Expanding on his “stronger and fairer” slogan from 2017, he is adding the taglines “forward and more resilient” to inspire a post-pandemic economic recovery, he said in an interview.
“There are some that want to take us back to the way things were before, when New Jersey only worked for the wealthy and well-connected,” Murphy said in a campaign video posted on Twitter on Tuesday night. “We cannot go back. We have to keep moving forward.”
New Jersey and Virginia are the only two U.S. states with gubernatorial elections this year. In New Jersey, all 120 seats in the Democratic-controlled legislature also will be on the ballot.
The state has 2.55 million registered Democrats, 2.43 million unaffiliated voters and 1.46 million Republicans, according to June 1 summaries from the state elections division.
Ciattarelli got 49.2% of the votes in the primary with 89% of precincts reported, according to the Associated Press. Philip Rizzo got 26.2%, Hirsh Singh got 21.4% and Brian Levine got 3.2%.
Murphy was viewed favorably by 47% of respondents in a Rutgers-Eagleton Poll released Monday, compared with 54% in October. The slip suggests that support for the current governor that rose during the pandemic has dipped as vaccinations diminished the Covid-19 threat, according to poll director Ashley Koning.
On May 28, Murphy’s campaign fund reported $7.83 million in receipts and $7.25 million in expenditures. Ciattarelli’s campaign listed $6.57 million in receipts and $5.94 million in spending.
Since Murphy took office in January 2018, New Jersey has made record pension payments, built the largest budget surplus in decades, reinstated a millionaire’s tax, raised the tax on corporate income over $1 million, started a regulatory framework for legalized adult-use marijuana and required police body cameras. A self-proclaimed progressive, Murphy restored women’s health funding, appointed the state’s first Black Supreme Court justice and gave tuition breaks to poor higher-education students.
Murphy also is overseeing the state’s Covid-19 response. On June 4 he dropped most pandemic restrictions, including indoor mask and distancing mandates, and the state is more than 90% of the way to its goal of vaccinating 4.7 million people by June 30.
The governor, who underwent surgery to remove a malignant kidney growth in March 2020, says two six-month check-ups have detected no cancer, and he is in good overall health.
Ciattarelli, who was treated for throat cancer in 2017 during an unsuccessful primary run for governor, says he is free of the disease and healthy. The founder of a medical publishing business and a certified public accountant, Ciattarelli served from 2011-2018 in the state Assembly.
As governor, Ciattarelli said he would lower New Jersey’s highest-in-the-nation property taxes in part by restoring aid to financially strapped towns and regionalizing local government. Retirement income would be tax-free and middle-class families would get higher child-tax credits, he said.
In a state whose residents historically have high support for abortion rights and firearms control, Ciattarelli says he supports terminating pregnancies only in cases of rape or incest, and he would loosen New Jersey’s gun restrictions, which are among the toughest in the U.S. He also wants to end local governments’ operating as so-called sanctuary cities, with protections for residents who lack proof of legal immigration.
New Jersey hasn’t re-elected a Democratic chief executive since 1977. Jon Corzine, the most recent Democrat prior to Murphy, was defeated in 2009 by Republican Chris Christie. Once the toast of his party nationally, Christie ran a failed bid for president during his second term, and his administration’s involvement with the George Washington Bridge traffic-jam scandal helped make him the least popular U.S. governor in 20 years, according to a Quinnipiac University poll in 2017.
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