Takeaways from the New Jersey Primary

By Michael Aron
Chief Political Correspondent

For Phil Murphy it was a convincing victory. A two and half year quest to become the next governor passed its first hurdle. Murphy delivered what’s become his signature line, “Today a lot of people had my back. New Jersey, here’s my simple promise to all nine million of you: I’ve got your back.”

In a field of six, Murphy garnered 48 percent of the vote. Jim Johnson and John Wisniewski were second and third with 22 percent. Ray Lesniak had just five percent.

Murphy has tried to position himself as the new messenger for New Jersey.

“Everyday I meet good people who have lost their faith that the government serves them. But they have not given up on their dreams and they have refused to settle for the status quo. People all across New Jersey are demanding change and I am here to change things,” he said.

An hour south, Kim Guadagno was claiming the Republican nomination. As she took the podium, she was almost speechless.

She called herself the candidate of Main Street values and said she identified with New Jerseyans who are struggling financially.

“They can no longer afford to live here. They can find jobs here, but they’re moving to New York and Pennsylvania. They’re forced to live there because we can’t afford to live here anymore. This campaign, our campaign, is about making New Jersey affordable for everyone,” Guadagno said.

Guadagno out polled her main Republican rival, Jack Ciattarelli, by 47 percent to 31. In a lengthy speech she offered a preview of the fall campaign by turning Murphy’s signature line against him.

“After 20 years making tens of millions of dollars at Goldman Sachs by betting against the American worker, Phil Murphy spent $20 million to buy the Democratic nomination tonight. He’s already running from his record. He’s trying to convince you that he’s got your back. Well he’s behind you all right. Everybody put your hand at your back pocket, get ready to reach into your back pocket because Phil Murphy is going to reach into your back pocket and take your last dime,” said Guadagno.

After 21 years in the legislature, John Wisniewski forfeited his Assembly seat for this unsuccessful run for governor.

“My advocacy continues, my voice will continue to be heard and I will continue to call upon you as friends and supporters. Let us go on and make New Jersey  a great state,” Wisniewski said.

It’s unclear what he’ll do next.

“Its been a long grueling campaign. We’re going to take a couple of days to reflect on it, but I have a hard time staying silent. There are so many issues that I’m passionate about that I’ll continue to advocate for in one capacity or another,” he said.

Jim Johnson, who was unknown six months ago, is being talked about as a future candidate for the House or U.S. Senate.

Ray Lesniak brings to an end a storied 40-year career in the Legislature.

On the Republican side last night, second-place finisher Ciattarelli was subdued but good-spirited.

“We don’t have a white flag in our closet as Republicans. We are going to come out and I’m going to campaign on behalf of the lieutenant governor and those 120 candidates for the state legislature in all 40 legislative districts,” Ciattarelli said.

We didn’t fail, he told supporters, we just lost by a few votes.

“We knew from the very beginning the lieutenant governor had a seven year head start in terms of name ID, that’s a huge mountain to climb for me as a candidate. That didn’t mean we weren’t going to wage the battle. She had an edge in terms of resources too, financial resources. And she had a number of county lines in counties that are extremely important. But she deserves this win. It’s an overwhelming, resounding victory for her. We’re proud of the campaign we ran and now we go to November in support of her,” said Ciattarelli.

So, looming ahead is an argument about taxes. Murphy wants to bring back the millionaire’s tax.

“We will ask the very wealthiest and the big corporations to pay their fair share,” Murphy said.

Guadagno twisted that on its head.

“If we elect Phil Murphy governor of the state of New Jersey, then the only person who will be able to afford to live in the state of New Jersey will be Phil Murphy,” she said.

On property taxes, she went him one step further.

“Tonight I pledge to you that if we do not in our first term lower property taxes in the state of New Jersey, I will not stand for re-election,” Guadagno said.

Murphy seemed to have Gov. Chris Christie and President Donald Trump more on his mind last night.

“Donald Trump will cut health care. He will gut public education. He will destroy our environment and target our immigrant communities all to feed his warped vision of America. We will stand up to this president with a steel backbone and tell him ‘You will not do that Mr. President in the great state of New Jersey!” Murphy said. “Chris Christie’s most basic promise that he wouldn’t raise taxes; there’s been a commuting to work tax, a going to college tax, a fewer choices for women’s health care tax, a refusal to fully fund public education tax. This isn’t a secret. Nobody in New Jersey wants to pay more, but even more than that, nobody in New Jersey wants to pay more and get less.”

Analyst Patrick Murray said it was a good night for the Democrats.

“Look at the raw numbers. We’re going to have somewhere over 500,000 Democrats who showed up to vote when the expectation was maybe they’ll get 300,000. We’re only going to have about 250,000 Republicans when we could all the votes where there should have been significantly more than 300,00 for a contested primary. So that’s telling us that there’s a big Trump effect, as well as a Christie effect,” Murray said.

Phil Murphy’s excitement last night seemed to reflect that.

“I’m honored to have won this thing. This means a lot. We didn’t take one vote for granted, we scrambled right up to the last second and it paid off and I’m incredibly proud of the effort the team put in,” Murphy said.