Murphy, Ciattarelli to meet in final debate of N.J. gov race

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)

Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy and Republican challenger Jack Ciattarelli are set to meet Tuesday in their final debate before the Nov. 2 election.

Murphy is defending his handling of the COVID-19 outbreak and numerous policies he’s enacted in his first term as he seeks to become the first Democrat in 44 years to win reelection. Ciattarelli is calling for reducing residents’ tax burden but faces headwinds because of a Democratic voter registration advantage. Polls show Murphy leading in the contest.

Murphy and the Democrat-led Legislature are on the ballot this year. Among the programs they’ve enacted together are higher taxes on the wealthy, recreational marijuana legalization, taxpayer-financed community college and increased aid to schools.

If elected, Ciattarelli says he would scrap the state’s complex school-funding formula to ease the property tax burden on residents in middle-class households, but he hasn’t spelled out how he would do that. He’s attacked Murphy over his handling of the outbreak, specifically the roughly 8,500 people who died in nursing and veterans homes, mostly early on in the pandemic. That’s about a third of the overall death toll.

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Murphy has responded that a rule his administration issued allowing COVID-19-positive residents to return to the homes from hospitals required that they be kept separate from other residents. He’s also pointed out that the facilities were the residents’ homes, and they couldn’t be refused to return.

The first-term governor has sought to link Ciattarelli, an accountant and former Assembly member, to former President Donald Trump. Trump lost twice in New Jersey, and his administration coincided with Democratic gains throughout the state.

The debate is being held at Rowan University in Glassboro. It’s sponsored by NJ PBS, NJ Spotlight News, the Rowan Institute for Public Policy and Citizenship, New York Public Radio and the Gothamist.

Early in-person voting starts Oct. 23 and runs through Halloween.

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