Murphy’s Narrow Win: Reelection and the Future of the Democratic Strategy

Shreya Gupta, Contributor

The New Jersey gubernatorial election made for another nail-biting race as politicos look to these results as a premonition for the 2022 Congressional election. Election results remained delayed as ballots received by Nov. 8th and postmarked by Nov. 3rd could still be counted. 

With approximately 95% of votes counted, incumbent Phil Murphy remained ahead, but barely, with less than 1% of the estimated 2.4 million votes cast separating the candidates. Last-minute mail-in ballots were projected to be in Murphy’s favor as consistent with trends from the 2020 presidential election. Mask mandates and vaccines emerged as leading issues for voters. Murphy’s most recent executive order requiring masks for children 2 and older in daycare centers was quickly met with objection by Republican challenger Jack Ciattarelli and supporters. Murphy has long boasted high ratings for his approach to COVID, but this new turn in a state where COVID has remained a top issue indicates that pandemic fatigue is beginning to mount in even the most stringent states.

However, as life gradually begins to shift back to the pre-COVID era, taxes and the economy are coming to the forefront of voters’ minds as opposed to COVID-related issues and Trump-era chaos which were Governor Murphy’s driving campaign issues. Murphy has had no trouble tying Ciattarelli to Trump, especially through his appearance at a “Stop the Steal” rally after the presidential election, but Murphy’s relations with Biden have not made him popular with voters either. Governor Murphy hosted President Joe Biden on October 25th to promote his new infrastructure bill despite his unpopularity in the wake of America’s disastrous exit from Afghanistan.

Murphy has also raised taxes twice despite the Garden State already having the highest property taxes in the United States. Murphy’s deafness to voters’ concerns for taxes can be seen in the tight margin with which he won.

The Democrats kept their two-decade-long hold on the state legislature. The state Senate election ended in 24 Democrat seats and 16 Republican seats with the Republicans gaining a seat. The Assembly still has 2 undecided seats but has confirmed 46 Democrats and 32 Republicans, compared to the 52 to 28 ratio from the 2017 election. 

Partisanship and hostility lingering from the 2020 Presidential election have reared their head in this election at times with Ciatterelli’s initial reluctance to cede despite Murphy’s 2.6% point lead, defending the decision with claims that he is waiting for the 70,000 remaining mail-in votes to be counted. Most notably, Assemblyman Ciatterelli is quoted to have warned supporters against “‘falling victim to wild conspiracy theories or online rumors’”—a statement that is reminiscent of President Trump in the aftermath of the 2020 election. 

Though Ciatterelli’s campaign eagerly sought to distance itself from the Trump campaign debacle, Murphy was quick to call this out as an attack on the integrity of our elections, consistent with his strategy throughout the campaign to link him to the one-term President.

Murphy can boast of being the first Democratic governor to be reelected since 1977, but the election was closer than Democrats would have liked in a state where Biden won by 16 points, showing the DNC a change of tides after sweeping local and national victories in 2020. Overall, Murphy and his team won by the skin of their teeth, foreboding both a difficult governorship in uniting a divided state and the likelihood of the struggle to come as Democrats will fight to maintain their hold on Congress. 

Photo Courtesy of Pierre Blaché via Flickr