Most of the college students that gathered in New Brunswick tonight probably weren’t old enough to vote for Gov. Phil Murphy last time – but they’ll sure as hell do it this time.
At his re-election rally on the campus of Rutgers University, Murphy was joined by Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT), the two-time presidential candidate whose support among college-aged voters has become a defining part of his political image.
Murphy, still ahead in the polls but hoping for a convincing victory next Tuesday, foretold doom under a hypothetical Jack Ciattarelli administration and pressed the crowd to give him another four years in the governor’s office.
“Folks, you get it, right? There’s too much at stake, especially for your generation,” Murphy said. “I need you – stronger, fairer, forward!”
But it wasn’t the governor’s name the crowd was shouting at various points throughout the rally.
Greeted by chants of “Bernie! Bernie!” as he climbed to the stage, Sanders listed the progressive positions he and Murphy have in common, and pointed to Murphy’s achievements on many of those issues.
“I am here tonight because your governor is one of the most progressive, if not the most progressive governor in America,” he said. “And because he stands with working people, working people stand with him.”
Sanders, echoing Murphy’s frequent exhortation that Democrats will win in New Jersey as long as they turn out to vote, insisted that everyone in the crowd spread word of the gubernatorial election far and wide.
“I know that a lot of your friends are going to say, politics is bullshit, don’t get involved, don’t waste your time,” Sanders said. “You tell them that you’re tired of their complaining – they have got to come out and get involved!”
In advance of the rally, a number of Republican groups, among them the national Republican Governors Association (RGA), sought to cast Murphy’s alliance with the staunchly left-wing Sanders in a negative light.
“Phil Murphy gave the stiff arm to independents and invited the avowed socialist Bernie Sanders to campaign with him as Democratic voters’ enthusiasm to show up at the polls takes a nosedive,” an RGA spokesperson said in a statement released this morning.
Tonight’s rally, naturally, did little to dispel comparisons between the two.
“These two men are very much the same,” said Analilia Mejia, Sanders’s former political director who spoke before Murphy at the event. “Both are constantly maligned and mistreated by their own peers simply because they give a damn about people like you and me.”
But as Sanders and Murphy both implied in their speeches, the point of tonight’s rally was not about voter persuasion; instead, it was meant to garner excitement in a demographic that often has dismal turnout, especially in off-year elections.
For example, in the most recent statewide poll from Monmouth University, 79% of respondents over the age of 65 said they’re “very motivated” to vote, while only 51% of those between 18 and 34 said the same.
In other words, unlike the older Republican and Democratic faithful who are a more common sight at gubernatorial rallies, the students at tonight’s rally – and, even more importantly, their friends, roommates, and classmates – aren’t necessarily the kind of voters who will walk over broken glass to get to a polling booth.
The question the Murphy campaign now has to ask: did Sanders provide the boost needed for some of them to take that first step?