New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy won reelection by a close margin, triumphing over Republican Jack Ciattarelli in a race that was ultimately much tighter than polls in the lead-up to Election Day suggested.
Murphy’s victory is a major relief for Democrats after a tough night on Tuesday, but the near-loss was yet another cause for concern for party leaders, who have an unpopular president and only slim majority control of Congress. In Virginia, Democrat Terry McAuliffe lost his campaign for another term as governor on Tuesday to Republican Glenn Youngkin. President Joe Biden carried both states easily in 2020, though polling showed the Virginia race was close in recent weeks.
An adviser to Biden downplayed the connection between the Virginia race and the president’s stalled agenda, as two signature bills have been held up in Congress for months. But the unexpected results in New Jersey will surely deepen a rift in a party already concerned about its prospects heading into the midterm elections, especially as Biden’s popularity is currently sinking.
Murphy is the first Democratic governor in New Jersey to win reelection since 1977. But the state has been so heavily Democratic that the race did not appear particularly close, and late polls had Murphy winning fairly easily.
Ciattarelli beat back Trump diehards to win the Republican gubernatorial nomination in June. The 59-year-old former member of the New Jersey General Assembly ran similarly to Youngkin, keeping Trump just close enough to be a motivating factor for his supporters in the state but choosing to focus more on local issues like the state’s high taxes. He also tried to push aside the former president’s claims around rigged elections, saying that would not happen in New Jersey. He did, however, appear at a 2020 postelection event near Trump’s club in Bedminster, New Jersey, that was labeled a “Stop the Steal” rally.
And when he spoke to supporters Tuesday night, Ciattarelli seemed to reference Trump’s election denials, specifying that the campaign wanted every “legal” vote counted, according to an NJ.com report.
Still, neither campaign declared victory Tuesday night as the candidates were separated by less than one percentage point.
“I wanted to come out here tonight because I prepared one hell of a victory speech,” Ciattarelli told supporters. “I wanted to come out here tonight because we won. But I’m here to tell you that we’re winning.”
Murphy shared a similar message with his own supporters, saying, “We’re all sorry that tonight cannot yet be the celebration we wanted it to be. But when every vote is counted — and every vote will be counted — we hope to have a celebration.” By Wednesday morning, he had canceled his scheduled press availability.