Murphy holds slim lead in New Jersey with race too close to call
New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy (D) holds a slim lead in the state’s gubernatorial contest over former state lawmaker Jack Ciattarelli (R) in what has emerged as a stunningly tight race.
With 88 percent of the vote tallied, Murphy leads by just 7,000 votes, or 0.3 percentage points. The count throughout Tuesday night showed Ciattarelli with a small lead, but Murphy made up ground as ballots from Democratic-leaning areas were counted.
It will be difficult for Ciattarelli, a former state assemblyman, to reverse the trend, but the results show a stark shift toward Republicans in a state President Biden won by 16 points just a year ago.
The narrow race caused hand-wringing among Democrats, particularly after Republican Glenn Youngkin beat former Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) in the Old Dominion’s gubernatorial contest in a race that both parties had viewed as a bellwether.
Early polls had shown Murphy with a yawning lead, though Ciattarelli had made up ground as the campaign wore on. But surveys in the run-up to the Tuesday contest still showed Murphy up anywhere from 6 to 11 points, suggesting they underestimated either support for Ciattarelli or a stark lack of enthusiasm among Democrats.
In a speech, Murphy said he’d wait for ballot tabulation to be completed before commenting further on the race and sounding a conciliatory tone.
“We’re going to wait for every vote to be counted, and that’s how our democracy works,” he told a crowd at his campaign’s watch party early Wednesday morning.
Ciattarelli, meanwhile, touted his strong showing, saying he couldn’t formally declare victory but hinting strongly he felt he’d emerge victorious.
“Thank you, thank you, thank you. It doesn’t happen without you,” he said.
“Although it was not my intention, we have sent a message to the entire country,” he said. “Sometime real soon, we’re going to do this again … Guys, hang in with me.”
The New Jersey contest was fought largely on two different battlefields. Murphy ran as a staunch progressive and an effective manager of the pandemic while trying to tie Ciattarelli to former President Trump.
Meanwhile, Ciattarelli focused his campaign almost exclusively on education and economic issues like school closures over the coronavirus and how race and gender are taught as well as New Jersey’s high taxes.
Tuesday’s results remained difficult to decipher, with typically Democratic-leaning areas showing up for Ciattarelli and Murphy performing better than expected in some places than past Democrats.
Updated: 11:51 a.m.