Murphy, Ciattarelli make their final pitches to N.J. voters as thousands already cast ballots

It’s the final week before the Garden State decides whether to re-elect Gov. Phil Murphy or pick a new governor in former Assemblyman Jack Ciattarelli.

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy (left) and Jack Ciattarelli

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy (left) and Republican challenger Jack Ciattarelli (right). (Office of Gov. Phil Murphy/Jack for NJ)

With less than one week before Election Day in New Jersey, voting is well underway as thousands of residents have already cast their ballots by mail or at early voting centers.

Arguably the most closely watched race is at the top of the ticket where both candidates for governor are painting each other as extremists who will take the state in the wrong direction.

Republican gubernatorial challenger Jack Ciattarelli has been traveling up and down the turnpike meeting as many voters as possible.

Meanwhile, Democratic incumbent Gov. Phil Murphy has been bringing in the party’s star power to boost his campaign.

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On Saturday, Murphy received praise from former President Barack Obama in Newark. The governor was in Trenton by Sunday, where South Carolina Congressman James Clyburn brought him to the stage during a “Souls to the Polls” rally.

“He could bring in the ghost of FDR — I don’t give a damn. We’re winning on Nov. 2,” Ciattarelli told the crowd at the New Italy American Society in Vineland Monday afternoon, hours after Murphy had appeared with President Joe Biden during an official visit to tout his infrastructure plan. Murphy’s campaign is planning a get-out-the vote rally with Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders at Rutgers University on Thursday.

Vineland was one of several campaign stops in South Jersey for the former assemblyman, who claimed he has spent more time in this part of the state than any other gubernatorial candidate, calling the region critical to his victory.

“I’m looking for a clean sweep here in South Jersey,” he said.

The region is the only one in the state where Ciattarelli has been consistently competitive with Murphy. According to the Monmouth Poll in September, both candidates are neck and neck there — a change from August, when the region was “slightly tilted” more towards Ciattarelli. Murphy has sustained his lead in the denser enclaves of Central and North Jersey for the last couple of months in Monmouth polls.

While Murphy has also spent time campaigning in South Jersey, there is more at stake for Ciattarelli, who has fought to gain name recognition statewide and to appeal to moderate voters who largely approve of the governor’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The pitch from Ciattarelli

Ciattarelli told the crowd in Cumberland County on Monday that Murphy has “failed” New Jerseyans during a period of multiple crises, including the pandemic.

“He’s failed seniors and veterans in our nursing homes, mom and pop shops on Main Street, kept our kids out of school for an entire year. He failed every New Jerseyan that’s waiting five hours in line at motor vehicles,” he said.

Ciattarelli also continued to hammer on Murphy’s response to the remnants of Hurricane Ida, which killed 27 residents.

“This guy declared a state of emergency 13 hours after the Pennsylvania governor, three hours after the tornado, two hours after the flash flood, and 30 fewer New Jerseyans are with us today,” he said, nodding to Murphy’s Republican predecessor.

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“If ever we needed one of those Chris Christie ‘get the hell off the beach moments,’ this was it,” he said.

Ciattarelli is leaning on history repeating itself for his benefit. Not only has a Democratic governor not won reelection in the state since 1977, the occupant of Drumthwacket has changed hands between Democrats and Republicans for the last three decades following a presidential election where the party flips the office.

Jack Ciattarelli addresses supporters while holding a microphone
Republican gubernatorial candidate Jack Ciattarelli addressing supporters at the New Italy American Society in Vineland, N.J. on Oct. 25, 2021. (P. Kenneth Burns/WHYY)

At the New Italy American Society rally, voters in the mostly white crowd said the story of Ciattarelli’s Italian immigrant family was a familiar one.

Karen Ferrari-Bonjean’s family, through her grandfather and great grandfather, founded the section of East Vineland known as New Italy. The retired educator said she is supporting Ciattarelli, in part, citing his business experience.

“He knows about balancing budgets [and understands] employing people,” she said. “He understands that hard work, saving money, and just all of the things that I believe in.”

Her husband, Tim Bonjean, agreed.

“You got to run the state like a business,” he said. “You can’t spend more than you make or you’re going to go broke.”

The Bonjeans also liked Ciattarelli’s promise to bring voter ID laws to New Jersey — a majority Democratic state that, under Murphy, recently expanded access to the polls by adding a period of early, in-person voting.

“It’s the year 2021, everyone has an ID,” Bonjean said. “Why shouldn’t you use it to go vote?”

“You have to show your driver’s license or your identification card … to do pretty much anything,” Ferrari-Bonjean added. “I have to show my ID if I want to cash a check, so I think it’s pretty basic.”

Murphy on the mound

The day before in Trenton, Murphy made his case for a second term at a “Souls to the Polls” rally in a parking lot across the street from the Cure Insurance Arena, one of the early voting sites in Mercer County.

The incumbent said the state had “underachieved” when he began his term in 2018, while letting people down in the process.

“We were on lists we didn’t want to be on,” Murphy said, “the smallest this, the lowest that.”

He also said the state did not make its pension payments and didn’t fund public education, women’s health, or expand pre-K or child care.

“We had an administration that was against science, was against the environment, an administration that liked loose gun laws,” Murphy said referring to the Christie administration.

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy (center) walks with a group of people from a Souls to the Polls rally
New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy (center) walks with a group of people from a Souls to the Polls rally across the street to the Cure Insurance Arena in Trenton, N.J. on Oct. 24, 2021. The arena is one of the early voting polling centers in Mercer County. (P. Kenneth Burns/WHYY)

The Garden State has turned the page, according to Murphy. He touted that the state made its first full pension payment in 25 years, the state’s minimum wage being raised to $15 an hour, and the expansion of pre-K and child care under his watch.

“We have more work to do,” the governor said. “That’s why I’m running again. We have to keep going forward. We cannot go backward.”

Referring to his opponent, Murphy said that Ciattarelli would take the state “back to the Christie era” he described.

“He wants to go back even further,” Murphy said of Ciattarelli, “He’s going to make Chris Christie look reasonable if he gets elected governor. Now, that’s hard to do.”

“This is a guy who’s bad on women’s health, bad on democracy, bad on guns, bad on vaccines, bad on masking,” he added while also noting that Ciattarelli spoke at a “Stop the Steal” rally.

“That disqualifies you for being governor of this great state,” Murphy said. “You ought to be running for governor of Texas.”

For his part, Ciattarelli told the Star-Ledger he was unaware of the event’s theme and that it “turned into something else after I was there.”

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