Who Are the Top Republican Candidates for Governor?

Four weeks from today, citizens will decide which major party candidates will square off in the race to replace Gov. Chris Christie. Last night, NJTV News Chief Political Correspondent Michael Aron looked at the Democratic field in New Jersey’s primary election. Tonight it’s the Republican contenders’ turn.

There are two Republicans who have qualified for public matching funds and thus for the debates.

Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno is seen as the front-runner. Guadagno is 58 years old and lives in Monmouth Beach. She was a federal prosecutor in Brooklyn, then Newark and later became Monmouth County Sheriff. She is known for attending hundreds of ribbon cuttings and swearings-in, and for giving her cell phone number out to the public. Her top issue is a promise of immediate property tax relief for homeowners who pay more than 5 percent of their income in school taxes.

Guadagno has been Gov. Christie’s stand-in for seven and a half years and has had a tricky relationship with him. Recently, she has parted ways with Christie on his hiking of the gas tax and his $300 million State House renovation plan.

Assemblyman Jack Ciattarelli is challenging Guadagno. Ciatterelli is 55 years old and lives in Hillsborough, Somerset County. He’s in his third term in the Assembly, after serving as a county freeholder, and he’s run a successful medical publishing business. He’s known for an independent streak and good interpersonal skills. His top issue is school funding. He has a plan that would move in the direction of equalizing state aid to urban and suburban districts.

Ciatterelli has also tried to distance himself from Gov. Christie — on the gas tax, on Christie’s support for North Jersey casinos — and he voted to override five Christie vetoes. His own five-point plan to control spending and spur the economy is very detailed and includes hiking taxes on incomes over $750,000.

Guadagno has nine county Republican organization endorsements compared to Ciatterelli’s seven. She polls higher than Ciatterelli, but some observers say he’d be a tougher opponent in the fall for the likely Democratic nominee Phil Murphy.

In either event, it’s going to be tough for the Republican nominee because after eight years of Christie and one year of Donald Trump, history says New Jersey is likely to go Democrat this year.

Watch Jack Ciattarelli and Kim Guadagno face off in a debate tonight at Stockton University at 6:30 p.m.

NJTV News and NJ Spotlight will co-host the two Republican candidates May 18 at 8 p.m. The Democrats will face off Thursday at 8 p.m.