New Jersey governor race tests Murphy’s progressive politics

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sick leave pay. Taxpayer-funded community college. A phased out $15 minimum wage.

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New Jersey has made a decidedly liberal change for the first time under Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy increased the income tax on the wealthy, expanded voting rights and tightened the state’s already restrictive gun laws. It is a notable change from his predecessor, Republican Chris Christie, who spent two terms pursuing more liberal policies.

Murphy’s agenda will be on the ballot on November 2, when voters decide whether to serve a second term or move the state in the other direction by electing Republican Jack Ciatarelli. History doesn’t necessarily favor Murphy: New Jersey hasn’t re-elected a Democrat as governor in four decades and hasn’t elected a governor from the same party as president in three decades.


“It’s one of the big, animating reasons why we’re running like we’re 10 points behind,” Murphy said in an interview. “We are not taking anything lightly. I mean, history has proved that this can be a very volatile year in terms of politics.”

But Murphy has some big advantages. He is leading in public elections and has raised more money than Ciattarelli, and New Jersey has 1 million more registered Democratic voters than Republicans. He’s also welcoming some Democratic heavy-hitters to the state: Former President Barack Obama is due on Saturday, and President Joe Biden is leaving on Monday to boost his spending plan.

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The race has national implications, although it has garnered less attention than the competition for the high-profile governor of Virginia. The defeat for Murphy would be shocking in a state when Biden won last year over Republican Donald Trump by nearly 16 points. It will also raise questions about whether moderate voters driven away by Trump are returning to the Republican Party now that the former president is no longer in office.

New Jersey’s left turn has been years in the making: The state has voted Democratic in every presidential election since 1992. It has not elected a Republican to the US Senate since the Clifford case in 1972. But the governor’s race has been in constant play for the GOP. The last three Republican-elected governors have won twice in a row.

“My focus is entirely on New Jersey,” Ciatarelli said in an interview. “To win as a Republican you have to focus on what it is that is bothering the people of New Jersey and that’s exactly what I’ve done for the last 22 months.”

Public polls show Murphy has received high grades from voters for its response to COVID-19, even though New Jersey was one of the hardest-hit states at the start of the pandemic. About 35% of the state’s nearly 25,000 deaths occurred from nursing and veterans homes. Murphy initially held daily news conferences about the pandemic and is now organizing twice a week. He ordered most nonessential businesses to close early in the pandemic, including restaurants, theatres, gyms and most retail stores. Masks were required and social distancing was encouraged. Schools closed and then most moved away.

“Many people are very happy with the way he handled the COVID-19 era. The numbers are very clear,” acknowledged Republican State Sen. Michael Testa.

Some Republicans are also concerned that Trump’s unpopularity could drag down Ciatarelli’s approval numbers. For example, since early June with rivals claiming Trump’s authority, Ciatarelli has sounded like a liberal while in the legislature, for example, in Roe v. About your support for Wade and for immigrants without legal status.

He’s living up to his credentials as an accountant and a small business founder, campaigning in Democratic-leaning cities as well as GOP strongholds.

Ciattarelli has also had to balance the more traditional GOP wing with the Trump faction. That means lower property taxes, a perennial issue in New Jersey, and easing COVID-19 restrictions. But it also means facing questions about his appearance at a rally focused on “Stop the Steel,” a reference to Trump’s false claims that the 2020 election was stolen. Ciattarelli said he did not know the rally was focused on the former president’s false claims.

Asked if he would welcome Trump’s campaign for him, Ciatarelli said he campaigns for himself and is not “in approval”. He has also said that he accepts that Joe Biden was legitimately elected.

The state’s political climate certainly shifted to the left during the Trump administration, with Democrats picking up all but one House seat in the state in 2018. They lost to each other when Jeff Van Drew left the Democratic Party over Trump’s first impeachment. Murphy himself won the election in the first year of Trump’s presidency, running on a self-proclaimed progressive platform. His victory was helped by the unpopularity of two-term Gov. Chris Christie, whose top lieutenant raced against Murphy in the 2017 race.

“When you look at which side the wind is blowing, it’s very hard for a candidate to be a good candidate if the wind isn’t blowing at your back,” said Assembly Republican leader John Bramnick. “And in New Jersey, the wind is definitely blowing more Democratic.”

Shawonda Sumner, a member of the Democratic Assembly and chair of the Legislative Black Caucus, said at least a decade ago there had been pushes for more progressive policies such as in-person voting and the expanded vote by mail. Those policies vetoed by Christie became law after Murphy became governor.

Sumner looks at the real turning point in 2020 during the national count on racial injustice following the killing of George Floyd by police. He said…


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