Some 200 South Jersey businesspeople in Mount Laurel gave Democratic gubernatorial candidate Phil Murphy a polite welcome. He gave the Chamber of Commerce luncheon crowd his usual bread and butter campaign speech to go with their meals. But, it was his condemnation of the deadly white supremacist rally in Charlottesville that elicited the only applause during his comments.
“Sen. Orrin Hatch I think said it best. He basically said, my brother gave his life fighting Hitler and Nazism – and there’s no way we can let this stand coming back on our home turf in this country,” Murphy said.
Murphy, who served as U.S. ambassador to Germany under President Obama, also criticized President Trump’s late response to the crisis.
“I think we’ve got a president right now who grades himself on a relative scale, and this is no time for relativity,” said Murphy. “I don’t think moral authority is a relative grade. You don’t grade that on a curve.”
On business, Murphy told the crowd investing in New Jersey’s innovation and infrastructure could lure companies back from peer states like Massachusetts, which he claimed is “cleaning our clock,” but insisted workers must pay a fair wage.
“I thought his speech, particularly around what happened in Virginia, was particularly timely and struck the right chord, said Brenda Ross Dulan, executive vice president at Wells Fargo.
By contrast, Lieutenant Governor Kim Guadagno did not mention the events in Charlottesville during her remarks, but the GOP candidate said she condemned the hate groups and their actions there.
“I did that very quickly after I saw the video,” Guadagno said.
However, Guadagno had little to say about the President’s reaction.
“I’m glad he finally reacted,” she added.
The businesspeople gave Guadagno a warm reception. She also offered her usual stump speech promising to lower property taxes because, she said, people can’t afford to live in New Jersey anymore.
“You should never pay more than five percent of your household income for your school property taxes,” said Guadagno. “I promise you this: I will not run for re-election if we don’t lower taxes.”
Guadagno angled her pitch to small businesses and struck a chord at the event. As Gov. Christie’s ambassador to business across the state, she claimed credit for helping lower the state’s jobless rate to 4.1 percent.
On her watch, New Jersey’s granted more than $4 billion in tax credits to mostly major corporations since 2013, a move that has drawn criticism for its corporate largess. Guadagno said now might be time to refocus those tax incentives.
“Maybe we spread them out a little more fairly, and that the GROW NJ credits are a bit too rich and need to go someplace else,” said Guadagno. “Let’s put it in a place we know needs growth: small businesses.”
Guadagno also warned Murphy would raise their taxes – red meat for this crowd.
“Kim tells it like it is. She absolutely knows what she’s talking about,” said Arvene Kirby, owner of Let’s Do Linens in Bridgeton. “She’s worked heavily in the economic. I want to see more economic development in South Jersey, so I think she was hitting the topics right on target today.”
The audience apparently found a lot to like in Guadagno, but Murphy has outstripped her three-to-one in fundraising and leads by double digits in the polls.