2017 Gubernatorial Race Discussion Begins After Phil Murphy Announcement

By Michael Aron
Chief Political Correspondent

Phil Murphy declared early so he can start raising money for a campaign, so he can start doing opposition research, which you can’t do if you’re not an announced candidate, and to become, as one of his advisors put it, “name rec competitive.”

Senate President Steve Sweeney, another likely candidate for the 2017 Democratic nomination, seemed non-plussed yesterday.

“You’ll be judged based on your opinions and your thoughts. I’ve said this, I think Phil Murphy’s a very nice man. I’m not going to say bad things about him. If his focus is improving the state, there are several people that are looking to improve the state. You know what’s going to happen? There will be a handful of people that will announce and then someone will win a primary,” Sweeney said.

The more the merrier, Sweeney added.

Jersey City Mayor Steve Fulop, another likely Democratic candidate, indicated it is premature for him to be reacting to other candidate announcements when he’s not even one himself.

Murphy yesterday said he is loaning his campaign $10 million.

That didn’t seem to phase likely candidate Ray Lesniak, who tweeted an Alfred E Neumann face and a what me worry this morning.

“In this day and age,” he told us by phone, “you can’t buy your way to a winning strategy in an election. It’s about how you connect with the voters.”

Pollster Patrick Murray, an expert on New Jersey politics, told us he thinks Murphy is an underdog.

We caught up to him outside a Chelsea Clinton event at a Long Branch restaurant today.

“This is going to be a crowded Democratic field, there’s no question about it. He’s not going to have the inside line with the party bosses, the county organizations, so he’s going to have to look for another way. I think one way to look at it is there’s a lot of enthusiasm right now among some Bernie Sanders supporters who are looking ahead to the primary and I think that’s going to dissipate as Hillary Clinton wins the nomination. Some of these folks are pretty heavy hitters here in New Jersey with a track record of organizing getting people out. I think this is Phil Murphy trying to ride that wave, to attach himself to the Sanders enthusiasm,” Murray said.

John Wisnieweski, another possible candidate, says we ought to get through this year’s election before we get to the next. As chairman of the Sanders New Jersey campaign, Wisniewski also wonders how Murphy can be modeling himself on Sanders after strongly endorsing Hillary Clinton.

“I’ve worked for her. I’ve seen it on the inside. I’ve seen the kind of leader she is,” Murphy said.

We asked how he differentiates himself from the other Democrats.

“I don’t spend a whole lot of time thinking about them. So I think about myself. I feel like I’ve had a lifetime of experiences that I can bring to bear on the current circumstances in New Jersey that are somewhat unique,” Murphy said.

That $10 million?

“I don’t think it’s scaring anybody off right now. This is not one of those cases as we saw with Jon Corzine where money scared the rest of the field away. I don’t think that’s going to happen,” said Murray.

It’s not Hillary the Murphy camp is trying to emulate, it’s Bernie. Murphy is looking to build a progressive movement here in New Jersey, and that’s another reason why he announced early.