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November 01, 2021

N.J. Gov. Phil Murphy seeking second term, but is history on Republican Jack Ciattarelli's side?

It's been more than 40 years since a Democratic incumbent has won re-election to Trenton

The 2021 New Jersey gubernatorial election officially got underway when early voting started on Oct. 23. The race pits incumbent Democrat Phil Murphy against former Republican state legislator Jack Ciattarelli.

Murphy, 64, became New Jersey's 56th governor in 2017 when he defeated former GOP Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno. For his reelection, his campaign has been focused around "moving forward" with a "stronger, fairer" New Jersey. 

LATEST: Voters head to polls for New Jersey's gubernatorial election between Phil Murphy, Jack Ciattarelli

Murphy is trying to become the state's first Democrat to be reelected governor in more than 40 years, since Gov. Brendan Byrne was elected to a second consecutive term in 1977. The most recent polls for the New Jersey governor's race have Murphy leading Ciattarelli by an average of 8.7 points.

Polling data for the race has consistently put Murphy in the lead with a margin in his favor ranging between 6 and 13 points since Ciattarelli won the Republican primary. An Emerson College poll released on Oct. 21 found Murphy's lead had been narrowed to just six points. Additionally, only 16% of those surveyed said that they didn't know who Ciattarelli was at this point in the race.

Murphy,  a Middletown, Monmouth County resident, has played an active role in the Democratic Party for many years. After a career as an executive at Goldman Sachs, Murphy served as the finance chair of the Democratic National Committee from 2006 to 2009.

During the Obama administration, Murphy was the U.S. Ambassador to Germany from 2009-2013. He recently served as chair of the Democratic Governors Association, a position that required him to help campaign and raise money for Democratic gubernatorial candidates across the country. Murphy currently is as the vice chairman of the National Governors Association. 

Ciattarelli, 59, won New Jersey's Republican primary in June, beating out three other candidates. If elected, he is promising to "fix New Jersey,"  and his running mate is former GOP legislator and longtime Philly TV news reporter Diane Allen.

New Jersey's last Republican governor was Chris Christie, who served two terms before leaving office in 2018. While in the state legislature, Ciattarelli was critical of Christie, although he endorsed the former governor during his 2016 presidential bid.

Ciattarelli won election to the New Jersey General Assembly and served the 16th District from 2011 to 2018. His district covered parts of Hunterdon, Mercer, Middlesex and Somerset counties.

A native and resident of Somerset County in Central Jersey, Ciattarelli got his start in politics on Raritan Borough Council from 1990-1995. He then rose to countywide office in 2007 when he was elected as a Somerset County freeholder.

Ciattarelli also previously worked as an accountant and later was the owner and publisher of Galen Publishing, a medical publishing company. This is Ciattarelli's second campaign for governor; he lost in the 2017 Republican primary to Guadagno.

Tuseday's election is operating primarily in-person after most residents voted by mail in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Early in-person voting ended Sunday.

New Jersey's polls on Election Day, Tuesday, Nov. 2 will be open from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. Information on.polling locations, ballot drop boxes and voting by mail in each county can be found on the New Jersey Division of Elections website.

Below is a breakdown of four of the biggest issues of the gubernatorial election and where Murphy and Ciattarelli stand on each topic.

The COVID-19 pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic has naturally become the focal point of Murphy's first term in office. 

On the campaign trail, the incumbent Democrat touted his leadership during the pandemic — pointing to his administration's efforts to provide COVID-19 testing materials and PPE, making financial relief available to impacted communities and setting up vaccination sites across the state.

The Emerson College poll released in October found that the majority people approved of Murphy's handling of the pandemic, but Ciattarelli is not among them.

The Republican says that the governor's COVID-19 policies cost thousands of nursing home residents their lives and devastated the state's economy. 

Ciattarelli opposes mask mandates for children in schools and COVID-19 vaccine requirements, arguing that it's not the government's job to tell residents what to do. Ciattarelli was criticized by Murphy and others for saying during the campaign that children aren't vulnerable to COVID-19. The Republican candidate has since walked back those remarks.


Whether students should be required to wear face masks in school is just one area of education policy where Murphy and Ciattarelli differ. The two candidates have sharp differences on how school funding should be distributed across the state.

Ciattarelli is calling forNew Jersey's school funding formula to be rebalanced so that resources are dedicated towards better-performing school districts rather than the state-operated Abbott districts. The Republican has suggested that this could help lower property tax bills in communities that have not seen funding in recent years.

Murphy has said Ciattarelli's plan would hurt underserved school districts with majority Black and brown students and that funds would be redistributed to predominantly white suburban districts.

The governor has pointed to his administration's efforts to increase public school funding, provide tuition-free community college education and expand universal pre-K in his first four years.

Taxes, spending and the economy

More than half of the respondents to the Emerson College poll said taxes were their top voting issue, and Ciattarelli has sought to make the economy central to his campaign message.

As part of an effort to appeal to swing voters and make New Jersey a more affordable place to live and retire, Ciattarelli promises to reform the state tax code by lowering property taxes and cutting the corporate tax rate in half if elected.

Ciattarelli says he would also reinvigorate the economy in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic by reforming the state pension system, making health insurance more affordable and upgrading the state's infrastructure.

The Republican also pledges to reduce spending and cut the state budget, although he hasn't given specifics on what he would slash.

Ciattarelli has accused Murphy of not addressing New Jersey's fiscal issues, noting the state's property taxes and 30% budget increase over the last four years.

Murphy defends the $11 billion increase in the state budget, saying that it was necessary after years of underfunding to the state pension system and K-12 schools during the Christie administration.

If elected, Murphy has pledged not to raise taxes in his second term after restoring the millionaires tax last year

As part of his effort to create a "stronger, fairer" New Jersey economy, Murphy wants to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2024, make paid sick leave mandatory, expand paid family leave, pass equal pay legislation, invest in clean energy jobs and increase funding for infrastructure.

In his current term, the governor's administration also has enacted the state's first tax credits for historic preservations, expanded credits for brownfield reclamation and redevelopment and sought to make New Jersey more welcoming to high-tech and start-up companies.

Former President Trump

Donald Trump may no longer be in the White House, but the former Republican president still looms large over the GOP. 

Trump's role in his own political party is still being debated nationwide, including in New Jersey, where Ciattarelli has sought to walk a fine line when it comes to the state's part-time resident.

When it comes to Trump, Ciattarelli's record is mixed. In 2015, he called Trump "a charlatan who is out of step with American values" and said that the businessman was not fit to be president. Ciattarelli endorsed Christie over Trump during the 2016 Republican presidential primary.

Then in January 2020, Ciattarelli attended Trump's Wildwood rally and a "Stop the Steal" event in Bedminster, Somerset County, last November. The gubernatorial candidate has denied any involvement in trying to overturn the results of last year's presidential election.

During the gubernatorial primary, several candidates sought to cast Ciattarelli as anti-Trump and out of step with the former president. 

Ciattarelli has said that Trump's economic policies were good for the country, despite disagreeing with the former president on several issues that he says were not beneficial to New Jersey. But Ciattarelli has declined to say if he would support a potential Trump presidential campaign in 2024.

Murphy has tried to tie Ciattarelli to Trump's efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election, saying that Ciattarelli's appearance at the "Stop the Steal" rally last fall disqualifies the Republican legislator from serving as governor.

Ciattarelli has attempted rebuff Murphy's criticism by saying the governor has to stop blaming Trump for every problem New Jersey has encountered.

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