Republican New Jersey gubernatorial candidate Jack Ciattarelli is aiming to unseat incumbent Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy when the polls close on Nov. 2 in a race that is seen as a potential bellwether for voter sentiment ahead of the 2022 midterms.
Murphy is seeking a second term as governor after enacting a progressive agenda that included tighter gun laws and higher taxes on the wealthy during his first years in office. The incumbent Democrat has argued Ciattarelli is a supporter of Donald Trump who will undo years of progress in the state, while the Republican challenger has slammed elements of Murphy’s COVID-19 response and tax policies that have led to a high cost of living within New Jersey.
Here is what to know about New Jersey’s gubernatorial race.
Who is the Democratic candidate?
A former senior director at Goldman Sachs, Gov. Phil Murphy left the private sector and entered politics in the early 2000s. He served as the U.S. ambassador to Germany under former President Barack Obama from 2009 to 2013. Murphy became governor after defeating Republican candidate Kim Guadagno in 2017. He replaced former governor and 2016 presidential candidate Chris Christie, who left office due to term limits.
President Biden and Obama have both endorsed Murphy for re-election and appeared alongside him on the campaign trail ahead of Election Day.
This photo from Tuesday, Oct. 12, 2021, shows Gov. Phil Murphy, D-N.J., during a gubernatorial debate at Rowan University in Glassboro, N.J. Murphy moved New Jersey to the left since he won election four years ago, but goes under a test that Democrats have not passed in recent years as he goes up against Republican challenger Jack Ciattarelli in this year’s race for governor. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II, Pool)
Who is the Republican candidate?
A former accountant and businessman, Jack Ciattarelli has been involved in New Jersey state politics for the last several decades. He served in the New Jersey General Assembly from 2011 to 2018.
Ciattarelli finished second in the Republican gubernatorial primary during the last election cycle in 2017.
FILE – In this Monday, May 29, 2017, file photo, New Jersey Assemblyman Jack Ciattarelli speaks to a crowd in Bridgewater, N.J. New Jersey voters will decide Tuesday, June 8, 2021 who their candidates will be in the fall election for governor and in every seat in the Democrat-led state Legislature. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez, File) (AP)
Who are the third-party candidates?
Madelyn Hoffman is the Green Party candidate, Joanne Kuniansky is the Socialist Workers Party candidate and Gregg Mele is the Libertarian Party candidate.
What are the key issues?
Tax policy is a major factor in this year’s gubernatorial race, with 27% of registered voters identifying it as the most important issue in deciding who they’d support, according to a Monmouth University poll released Wednesday.
Jobs and the economy ranked second at 20%, followed by educations and schools (16%), response to the COVID-19 pandemic (15%), and crime (7%). Respondents said they trusted Ciattarelli more on tax policy (39% to 29%), while Murphy had a slight edge on the economy (34% to 33%) and a sizable lead on pandemic response (45% to 26%).
Ciattarelli has pledged to lower property and income taxes, arguing that Murphy’s policies have led to an unreasonable cost of living. He said he will work with state legislators on “day one” to cut the budget, which has ballooned as Murphy implemented state-funded programs in education and other sectors.
While he has urged New Jersey residents to be vaccinated, the Republican has also been critical of mandates for vaccination and face masks. He has also insisted that Murphy’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic was harmful to local businesses.
Murphy has vowed to build on the progressive policies he implemented during his first term in office. The Democrat and his supporters have also claimed that Ciattarelli is a close ally of Trump, citing his attendance at a “Stop the Steal” rally in Nov. 2020. Ciattarelli said he did not know the rally was focused on election-rigging claims.
Murphy’s handling of COVID-19 has been popular within the state, but he has faced scrutiny over his handling of coronavirus-related deaths at state nursing homes.
Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy of New Jersey, right, during a gubernatorial debate with Republican challenger Jack Ciattarelli at Rowan University in Glassboro, N.Jl, on Tuesday, Oct. 12, 2021, (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II, Pool) (AP)
Who is leading the race so far?
Murphy has maintained a sizable advantage over Ciattarelli in pre-election polls, though the Democrat’s lead has narrowed in recent weeks. A new Monmouth University poll found Murphy held 50% support among registered voters in New Jersey, compared to 39% for Ciattarelli.
The incumbent’s 11-point lead was down slightly compared to Monmouth’s September poll, when he held a 13-point lead, and the August poll, when he had a 16-point lead.
What to know about voting
Early in-person voting for New Jersey’s gubernatorial race began on Oct. 23 and will continue through the end of the month. It is the first time the state has allowed early voting for an election.
In order for mail-in ballots to count, they must be postmarked by 8 p.m. ET on Nov. 2 and arrive at a county board of elections by no later than Nov. 8.
Polls close at 8 p.m. ET on Election Day, Nov. 2.