Tuesday’s New Jersey primary results will pit Democrat Phil Murphy against Republican Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno in the Nov. 7 election to succeed term-limited Republican Gov. Chris Christie. It is one of the first statewide contests since the 2016 election.
Murphy, a former U.S. ambassador to Germany and onetime Goldman Sachs executive, defeated a slate of candidates in the Democratic primary, including former prosecutor and Treasury official Jim Johnson, state Assemblyman John Wisniewski, state Sen. Ray Lesniak, and activist and former firefighter Bill Brennan.
Guadagno, who spent much of her last seven years in office in Christie’s shadow, won against leading challenger Jack Ciattarelli, a state assemblyman who had attacked Guadagno for her proximity to the governor. Christie holds the distinction of being the most unpopular governor in the nation ― a recent Quinnipiac University survey released earlier this month showed the tough-talking Republican with a shockingly low 18 percent approval rating.
Despite the stakes ― Democrats would hold unified control of the state’s government if Murphy wins ― the race has not garnered widespread media attention so far. Special elections in Kansas, Montana and Georgia, as well as the Virginia gubernatorial race, have drawn more news coverage.
Murphy, a wealthy former banking executive who has spent more than $20 million on his campaign so far, faced criticism late in the race over his tenure at Goldman Sachs. Democratic rival Johnson criticized Murphy for presiding over Goldman Sachs Asia at a time when the division profited from an investment in Yue Yuen Industrial, a company with documented labor abuses. Murphy’s campaign, however, said he wasn’t involved in the decision to invest in that company.
Both Johnson and Wisniewski attempted to cast themselves as the true progressives in the Democratic primary race, using images and video of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) in attacks against Murphy and his tenure at Goldman Sachs. The line of attack never really proved effective. Sanders’ son, Levi, endorsed Murphy in the race.
Murphy’s campaign announced last week that he would participate in the state’s public financing program, which would limit his spending in the general election.
Murphy is expected to hold an advantage over Guadagno in November, partly because of how politically toxic Christie has become, even to his own party, and partly because the state favored Democrat Hillary Clinton by a wide 14-point margin in the presidential election last year.
President Donald Trump is likely to loom large in the race, however. Murphy has vowed to “stand up to President Trump every time he attacks the vulnerable or defies our Constitution.” Murphy’s election would bolster the growing Trump resistance movement around the country. Guadagno, on the other hand, said she’d welcome the president to campaign with her in the general election.
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