Gov. Phil Murphy and Republican gubernatorial nominee Jack Ciattarelli kicked off the state’s inaugural early voting period this weekend with a mad dash of rallies and events up and down the state; combined, the two candidates hosted 17 events across the two days, ranging from Brick to Fort Lee.
But as they traveled from town to town, meeting voters and rallying with local politicians, another undercurrent became clear in their speeches and rhetoric: the devastation that their opponent would unleash on the state.
Kicking Saturday morning off in Long Branch, right before he himself voted, Murphy held a rally during which he warned supporters of how fundamentally backwards and destructive Ciattarelli’s conservative worldview is.
“This is what’s at stake,” Murphy said. “Not only is it forwards versus backwards… They like the night better than the day. They like the darkness better than the light. We cannot let that happen. There is too much at stake.”
Not to be outdone, that same day Ciattarelli told supporters in Colts Neck about just how disastrous a second Murphy term could be if Ciattarelli isn’t elected to stop him.
“You thought the last four years were bad?” Ciattarelli asked. “Wait until this guy is unencumbered. Wait until he’s a lame duck. You haven’t seen the worst of Phil Murphy yet; you would see it in his second term. We’re going to prevent that from happening. So go out there and tell everyone you know what’s at stake: the future of our state.”
The next day – after former President Barack Obama himself had come to Newark to blast Ciattarelli – Murphy invited House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn (D-SC) and Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-Ewing) to a rally in Trenton promoting Souls to the Polls, a tradition linking church attendance with voting common in many Black churches. Though the purpose of the rally may have been somewhat different, Murphy’s foreboding rhetoric was the same.
“We cannot take an extreme leader,” he said. “You know, there’s a saying in the nuclear power business that the chances of an accident are very small, but if there is an accident, the hole is very deep. And if we don’t get this right in this election, the hole is going to be very, very deep.”
The language both candidates are increasingly employing is, for the most part, a continuation of past messaging; Murphy and Ciattarelli have each worked to convince voters for months that the other is an extremist well out of step with the state’s voters.
But the dire language of disaster that Murphy and Ciattarelli used this weekend marks an escalation – and a sign that the campaign between two fundamentally reasonable candidates is growing more unreasonable by the day.