At an event most thought would take place 24 hours earlier, Gov. Phil Murphy delivered a victory speech that highlighted his accomplishment and looked forward to the next four years.
Murphy was declared the winner of New Jersey’s gubernatorial race by the Associated Press for a second term in an unexpectedly tight race. Murphy said he was “humbled” to become the first Democrat in 44 years to be elected to a second term, last accomplished by Brendan Byrne in 1977.
Delivering his remarks at the Asbury Park Convention Hall Nov. 3 to his supporters, Murphy framed the next four years in which he plans to pursue a “stronger and fairer” agenda.
“In New Jersey, we know how to make forward work,” he said in a speech that was less than 10 minutes long. “From the middle out and the bottom up. We know how to move forward and accomplish big things.”
First Term Accomplishments
Murphy then rattled off a list of progressive accomplishments during his first four years, including raising the minimum wage, educational gains, expanding funding for women’s health, affordable healthcare and childcare, and increasing voting rights.
“If you want to know what the future looks like, come to New Jersey. If you want to understand where America is heading, look to New Jersey,” said Murphy.
The incumbent Democrat attempted to reach out to those who came out to vote against him but failed to mention the name of his opponent, GOP challenger Jack Ciattarelli.
Governor for All
“If you want to be governor of all of New Jersey, you must listen to all of New Jersey,” he stated. “And New Jersey, I hear you. I renew my promise to you, whether you voted for me or not, to….keep moving us forward for greater opportunities for all 9.3 million who call the Garden State home.”
Murphy closed by quoting Byrne about how lawmakers are not judged by how they fared in an election but what we they do as an administration.
“These are the words (my administration) have lived the last four years and will live everyday for the next four as we continue the work to make New Jersey stronger and every fairer,” said Murphy. “Those words will always remind us to keep moving forward.”
No Concession from Jack
While Murphy was triumphant, the win was a costly one for the Democrats, as their majorities declined in the State Senate and Assembly. Additionally, Senate Majority Leader Steve Sweeney was shockingly defeated, leading Democrats to jockey to replace the longest-serving legislative leader in New Jersey history.
Despite the victory call, the Ciattarelli camp was not conceding. After the AP’s declaration, Stami Williams, Ciattarelli campaign spokeswoman, tweeted “With the candidates separated by a fraction of a percent out of 2.4 million ballots cast, it’s irresponsible of the media to make this call when the New Jersey Secretary of State doesn’t even know how many ballots are left to be counted.”
Murphy’s victory speech came after a day that saw the lead go back and forth between the two candidates. As of about 10:00 p.m. Nov. 3, Murphy had just under 24,000 vote lead over Ciattarelli. With 90% of the precincts reporting, the incumbent has 1,217,043 votes compared with the former Assemblyman’s 1,193,262.
Waiting for All Votes
Ballots continue to be counted as some mail-in ballots (as long as it has a Nov. 3 postmark) can be accepted until Nov. 8 and provisional ballots won’t be counted for several days.
Historically, this is shaping up to be the closests race since 1981 when Republican Tom Kean defeated Democratic U.S. Rep. Jim Florio. The race would be called for Kean 26 days after election day.
“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,” said Williams during the day. “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.”
Under New Jersey state law, a recount must be requested and is not automatically triggered due to the closeness of the race. Candidates may request a recount within 17 days of Election Day by filing a lawsuit in the Superior Court in the county where a recount would be requested. Additionally, voters or outside groups can request a recount. For this and other races in New Jersey, the deadline is Oct. 19.
Election night ended with both camos stating the election would not be decided until the following days. GOP nominee Ciattarelli led the incumbent Murphy 50%-49% as the clock struck midnight followed by both candidates telling supporters to go home from their respective campaign parties.
Lead Goes Back and Forth
By morning, Murphy edged ahead, resulting in the incumbents having a 1,667 votes lead. But at noon on Nov. 3, Ciattarelli moved back ahead by a 465 vote lead over Murphy. An hour later, Murphy would regain the lead as mail-in votes from Democratic strongholds continued to come in overwhelmingly in favor of the former Ambassador to Germany.
In general, Ciattarelli’s strong showing was due to the Republican candidate outperforming in such GOP hotbeds as Ocean and Monmouth counties while Democrats did not retain the gains in recent elections such as Bergen and Morris.
Ciaterrelli’s supporters had argued in the closing day the election was going to be much closer than the eight point spread in three different polls published in the last week of the election.
Ciattarelli, the former Assemblyman, ran a race that centered on the Garden State being broken, and he was the man to fix it. That plan included a number of tax cuts, a new school funding formula favoring the suburbs and argued for personal choice when it came to COVID-19 masks and vaccine mandates.
Addressing his supporters after Murphy the night of the election, Ciattarelli proclaimed “We are winning…we want every legal vote counted. When that is done, I will be standing in front of you not saying we are winning but that we won.”
Murphy, who never fell below 50% in polls leading up to the election, ran on his progressive record—including a higher minimum wage, social justice reforms and clean energy initiatives—that he said was just the start of attempting to make the state “stronger and fairer.”
He consistently received good marks for the handling of the coronavirus pandemic in polls over the last 20 months and vigorously defended his actions during the campaign, including those at long-term care facilities early in the pandemic and then later mask and vaccine mandates.