Murphy narrowly wins reelection in New Jersey governor's race

New Jersey Gov. Phil MurphyPhil MurphyLegislatures move to limit governor powers after pandemic Fire breaks out at NJ chemical plant: 'The worst that I've ever seen' Biden administration announces actions bolstering clean energy  MORE (D) has clinched a second term after defeating former state Assemblyman Jack Ciattarelli (R) in the state’s unexpectedly tight gubernatorial contest. 

The Associated Press called the race for Murphy Wednesday evening, with the governor edging out Ciattarelli by a 50.02-49.23 margin with 90 percent of precincts reporting.

Murphy beat back Ciattarelli in a race that polls had shown slightly narrowed in the final few weeks of the campaign. While New Jersey’s blue hue proved too deep for Ciattarelli to overcome, the former state lawmaker ran far ahead of expectations, holding a lead over Murphy for much of Tuesday night before falling slightly behind in the early morning hours on Wednesday.

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Both candidates effectively declared victory early Wednesday morning while saying more votes had to be tabulated, though it was Murphy who ultimately emerged the victor.

“We’re all sorry that tonight cannot yet be the celebration we want it to be,” Murphy said at his campaign's watch party. “We hope to have a celebration.”

The sitting governor did not enjoy any lead until after Tuesday gave way to Wednesday, and even then it was just by the narrowest of margins. With 88 percent of the vote counted, he led by a mere 7,000 votes, a stark jump toward Republicans in a state President BidenJoe BidenCourt nixes offshore drilling leases auctioned by Biden administration Laquan McDonald's family pushes for federal charges against officer ahead of early release Biden speaks with Ukrainian president amid Russian threat MORE won by 16 points in 2020.

As votes continued to trick in Wednesday showing Murphy taking a narrow lead, Ciattarelli suggested he'd wait for all votes to be cast before he would concede.

"Last night was a historic one for New Jersey Republicans, who picked up at least a half dozen Assembly seats, several Senate seats, along with county and local seats up and down the state," Stami Williams, a Ciattarelli campaign spokeswoman, said Wednesday afternoon. "Jack is proud to lead our ticket and our party's resurgence. Right now, our team is focused on making sure all the legal votes are counted and our citizens can have confidence in the system."

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Murphy, who first won his seat in 2017, cast himself as an effective manager during the coronavirus pandemic while dubbing his opponent a Trump foot soldier. Meanwhile, Ciattarelli styled himself a moderate and looked to keep former President TrumpDonald TrumpMark Walker to stay in North Carolina Senate race Judge lays out schedule for Eastman to speed up records processing for Jan. 6 panel Michael Avenatti cross-examines Stormy Daniels in his own fraud trial MORE at arm’s length, focusing much of his campaign on economic issues and education.

Murphy started the race with a considerable polling lead, but surveys showed his lead narrowing in the run-up to the Tuesday contest. Still, his razor-thin victory proved a far cry from the 6- and 11-point leads he enjoyed in recent polls.

The GOP had hoped that Ciattarelli would be a competitive candidate given his moderate reputation, especially after the former state lawmaker won the nomination earlier this year over a field of Trump acolytes.

Still, Republicans conceded that toppling Murphy in New Jersey would be an uphill battle but were looking at Ciattarelli’s performance as an indicator for how much ground the GOP could make up in blue states that contain competitive House seats, particularly in suburban areas.

The party suffered steep setbacks in such areas during the Trump administration. The Garden State had six GOP House members out of a 12-seat delegation until 2019 and a Republican governor until 2018. But during the Trump years, the GOP saw the governor’s mansion and four House seats slip away amid a backlash against the White House.

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Murphy’s win breaks a New Jersey trend, becoming the first Democratic governor in the state to win reelection since 1977, underscoring the deepening Democratic advantage in the Garden State.

But the New Jersey results still sound alarm bells for Democrats, who were defeated in Virginia's marquee gubernatorial race.

Democrats were left reeling over the reversal of significant gains during the Trump years among suburbanites while continuing to get walloped in rural areas, in some instances by even greater margins than in 2020, when the former president sparked a surge in GOP turnout.

Republicans appeared to be smelling blood in the water Wednesday, boasting that the results in Virginia and New Jersey forecast that the party could take back the House and Senate next year, two chambers where Democrats are defending historically narrow majorities. House Republicans' campaign arm Wednesday announced they were adding 13 more Democrats to its target list.