TRENTON, N.J. (CBS/AP) — Gov. Phil Murphy, after a highly contested race, has held on to secure a second term as New Jersey’s governor. Murphy survived a challenge by his Republican challenger, former Assembly member Jack Ciattarelli, declared the winner by the Associated Press. Murphy won, 50.02% to 49.23%.
Murphy gave a victory speech late Wednesday night in Asbury Park, New Jersey.
“I am humbled to be the first Democratic governor reelected in the great state of New Jersey since my dear friend, the late Gov. Brendan Byrne, did this in 1977,” Murphy said. “Thank you, New Jersey!”
“And New Jersey, I hear you,” Murphy added. “So tonight, I renew my promise to you. Whether you voted for me or not, to work every single day of the next four years to keep moving us forward. Forward with renewed optimism to ensure greater opportunities for all 9.3 million who call the Garden State their home.”
Murphy becomes the first Democrat to be reelected governor in New Jersey since 1977, and no candidate from the party of the president who won the year before New Jersey’s off-year elections has won the governorship since 1985.
AP called the race Wednesday evening when a new batch of votes from Republican-leaning Monmouth County increased Murphy’s lead and closed the door to a Ciattarelli comeback.
Ballots remaining to be counted included a significant number of votes from predominantly Democratic Essex County, along with mail-in votes spread across other counties. Murphy has won the mail-in vote by a wide margin even in Republican-leaning counties, like Monmouth.
Ciattarelli’s campaign released a statement following Murphy being declared the winner.
“With the candidates separated by a fraction of a percent out of 2.4 million ballots cast, it’s irresponsible of the media to make this call when the New Jersey Secretary of State doesn’t even know how many ballots are left to be counted,” a campaign spokesperson for Ciattarelli said.
The governor’s first-term agenda faced a test from voters, and he passed — slightly.
Murphy delivered on many of the promises he made during his first run in 2017: paid sick leave, a phased-in $15 minimum wage, more funding for women’s health care, taxpayer-financed community college, recreational marijuana, and more state aid for education and the public pension — paid for in part by higher taxes on incomes over $1 million and on businesses.
His management of the state during the COVID-19 outbreak was also front and center.
Murphy appeared on stage at Asbury Park’s convention hall, enthusiastic Wednesday morning.
“Our mission has been simple — to build a state where every child regardless of race or gender, creed or zip code has the opportunity to live out their hopes and achieve their American dream,” he said. “These are the values we have put to work. We are leading with compassion and empathy and not anger and despair.”
Murphy swept into office in 2017 with a 14-point victory over former GOP Gov. Chris Christie’s lieutenant governor, Kim Guadagno, buoyed by former President Donald Trump’s unpopularity in the state and Christie’s low approval ratings.
Ciattarelli is a former state Assembly member, serving until 2018. He’s the founder of a medical publishing company called Galen Publishing, and served as a local and county official in Somerset. He walked a line between standing up for the moderate stances he had in the Legislature — like supporting Roe v. Wade — and appealing to Republicans who embraced Trump, particularly on cultural issues that have captured attention across the country.
New Jersey does not have an automatic recount law, but the candidates are permitted to request one. The party that wants a recount has to file a suit in State Superior Court in the counties where they want to contest tallies. That has to be done within 17 days of Election Day.