Voters on Tuesday chose a wealthy former Goldman Sachs executive and Republican Gov. Chris Christie’s top deputy to run to replace the unpopular governor.
Democrat Phil Murphy and Republican Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno won in the first statewide primary election since President Donald Trump took office. They will face off Nov. 7 in one of only two governor’s races this year, along with Virginia, with Democrats hopeful their promised anti-Trump agenda and voter registration advantage will propel them to victory and jump-start a 2018 congressional comeback.
The election comes as Trump administration developments swamp headlines, spurring Murphy to lash out at the Republican president and wedging Guadagno between an unpopular White House and a governor of whom most voters disapprove.
Murphy is a former Obama administration ambassador to Germany. He poured more than $20 million into the contest and won endorsements from the state’s powerful county political machines. Guadagno has served as Christie’s top deputy since they were elected in 2009.
In his victory speech Tuesday night, he suggested that a vote for Guadagno would be like giving Gov Christie and third term. “Four more years of Christie style politics won’t change New Jersey’s unfair, unsuccessful, unsustainable course but we will.”
The race to take the New Jersey governor’s office back from a Republican comes as Democrats nationally weigh whether distancing themselves from Wall Street will help them counter Trump and his populist Republican allies. Murphy blurs the line between establishment and insurgent just as Democrats reckon with whether their best candidates should come from within or outside the traditional party structure.
Christie remained neutral during the campaign but said Tuesday that he voted for Guadagno. He has earlier said that he would campaign if asked, but it’s unclear whether his assistance would help or hurt, since about three-quarters of voters disapprove of his job performance
Phil Murphy giving his victory speech on Tuesday night. (Screen capture from NJTV stream)
Murphy withstood attacks from five opponents over his time at Goldman Sachs. They compared him to members of Trump’s administration who also worked there and former Democratic Gov. Jon Corzine, another Goldman Sachs alumnus who, like Murphy, donated to local Democratic parties.
Sharyn Kingston, 25, of Freehold, said she was wary of Murphy’s “Goldman Sachs connections” but voted for him because he’s best suited for the job and can win the election.
“I’m not an Occupy Wall Street type, but I am afraid of big money in politics, and he made it look like he was trying to buy the nomination,” the legal secretary said.
During his victory speech, Murphy echoed a theme from Bernie Sander’s presidential campaign that the rich need to pay more, “To make sure there is more opportunity we have to make New Jersey more just, we have to make it fairer, and we have to pay for it. We will ask the very wealthier and the big corporations to pay their fair share. We will close loopholes that only benefit Wall Street money managers. And we will end the practice of overprices and under-performing hedge funds managing or pensions.”
John Parilla, 75, an immigration lawyer from Alpine, voted for Guadagno and said he likes the range of experience she brings to the job. He said he doesn’t see her as a Christie clone but does see similarities between Murphy and Corzine.
Kim Guadagno thanking her supporters during her Tuesday victory speech. (Screen capture from NJTV stream)
Guadagno, who was twice elected on the ticket with the term-limited governor, has gone to great lengths to try to highlight their differences.
In her victory speech Guadagno went out of her way to distance herself from Christie, who was the the first Republican with a national standing to endorse Donald Trump’s presidential campaign. “I’m running for governor based on my values, based on my record, and based on my principles.”
Guadagno’s close ties to Christie did not deter voters like Jack Trotta of Plumsted from casting his ballot for her, “Number two has no say in what’s going on. Especially with the number one we had for the last 8 years. Very strong personality. Number two doesn’t have a say.” Also on Tuesday night, the Lt. Governor criticized Murphy who she says plans to raise taxes and increase spending. “If we elect Phil Murphy governor of the state of New Jersey, then the only person who will be able to afford to live in the state of New Jersey will be Phil Murphy.” Guadagno is vowing to cut taxes using cuts in state government and projected revenue gains.
Guadagno defeated fellow Republicans Assemblyman Jack Ciattarelli, Nutley Commissioner Steve Rogers, Ocean County landscape business owner and actor Joseph “Rudy” Rullo and Atlantic County engineer Hirsh Singh.
Ciattarelli, who came in second, told his supporters Tuesday night that it was a good campaign, “We didn’t fail, we didn’t fail, we just lost by a few votes, but we waged a fight, we waged a good fight a good fight and I’m proud of the campaign and I’m proud of all of you.”
Murphy faced Democratic challengers former Teaneck firefighter Bill Brennan, one-time Clinton administration Treasury official Jim Johnson, state Sen. Ray Lesniak, Assemblyman John Wisniewski and Tenafly Councilman Mark Zinna.
Jim Johnson tied for second place with Assemblyman Wisniewski with each getting 22 percent of the vote. He said he plans to stay involved in politics in some form, “This state is open to new ideas, and I think my showing in the polls show that. I will continue to press forward for key ideas and key changes. We need in this game all hands on deck because the state remains in big trouble and we need major change,” said Johnson.
Nancy Dhulipala, 49, of Alpine, works for a nonprofit focused on education for children with disabilities. She said that she voted for Murphy and that Trump had an effect on her decision because she hopes to see Democrats take control at the state level to provide a balance to what’s going on in Washington. New Jersey’s Legislature already is controlled by Democrats.
Democrats are favored in the general election, in part because of an 800,000-voter registration advantage and because of political headwinds stemming from Christie’s and Trump’s unpopularity.
The Associated Press, Tom MacDonald, Phil Gregory, Joe Hernandez and Ang Santos contributed to this story.