Jack Ciattarelli may have lost this year’s gubernatorial election, but his performance against Gov. Phil Murphy could still bode well for Republicans ahead of next year’s midterm congressional elections.
While losing statewide by three points, Ciattarelli managed to win half of the state’s congressional districts, including all five – the 2nd, 3rd, 5th, 7th, and 11th – that have hosted competitive elections in recent cycles. All but one of those is currently held by a Democrat, with the exception being the 2nd district, home to party-switching Rep. Jeff Van Drew (R-Dennis).
The current district lines won’t be in place next year, of course; the congressional redistricting process is currently underway, and the lines ultimately drawn by the redistricting commission may end up looking radically different from the current map.
Even still, Democrats will have four potentially vulnerable incumbents to defend – and if the current map is any guide, several of them may have to win seats that Murphy couldn’t.
The state’s lone competitive Republican-held district, the 2nd, has been home to fierce battles in the past: first in 2018, when then-Democrat Van Drew flipped the seat to his party, and then again in 2020 when Democrat Amy Kennedy fell short following Van Drew’s party switch.
But if Murphy’s performance this year is any indication, the 2nd district’s days of highly competitive races may be drawing to a close. The governor lost the district by a huge 18.7-point margin, four years after he won it by around two points. That margin nearly made the 2nd district the reddest in the state; the reddest was still the 4th district, which voted for Ciattarelli by 20 points and maintained its longstanding streak as the state’s most Republican district.
Murphy’s South Jersey woes extended to the 3rd district as well, which Rep. Andy Kim (D-Moorestown) narrowly flipped in 2018 and retained by a robust margin in 2020. Ciattarelli carried the district by 13.7 points; for comparison, Murphy only lost the district by around four points in 2017, and President Joe Biden lost it by less than a point last year.
Simultaneously, Republicans managed to flip six state legislative seats in districts overlapping with the 2nd and 3rd congressional districts – meaning that Republican successes in South Jersey weren’t just limited to Ciattarelli.
And in the 6th district, home to Rep. Frank Pallone (D-Long Branch) and Murphy himself, Ciattarelli managed to hold Murphy’s margin to only 3.6 points, a sign that the governor’s struggles reached beyond the state’s traditionally contested areas.
In the 5th, 7th, and 11th districts, all of which are based in different parts of suburban North Jersey, Ciattarelli’s performance was not as exceptional, but he still carried all three districts by solid margins.
The 5th, home to three-term moderate Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-Wyckoff), voted for Ciattarelli by 7.3 points; the district previously voted for Biden by five points, and was essentially tied in 2017. Rep. Mikie Sherrill (D-Montclair)’s 11th district voted similarly, giving Ciattarelli a 6.6-point margin after voting for Biden by seven points.
Ciattarelli’s smallest margin of victory was in his home district, the 7th, where Rep. Tom Malinowski (D-Ringoes) is facing a tough re-election fight after nearly losing to Senate Minority Leader Tom Kean, Jr. (R-Westfield) in 2020. Ciattarelli won the 7th by 6.2 points, only barely improved from then-Lieutenant Gov. Kim Guadagno’s four-point win in 2017 but well up from President Donald Trump’s 10-point loss in 2020.
In order to win a majority of the state’s congressional districts, then, Murphy would have had to win statewide by around nine points, which (assuming a uniform swing) would have narrowly flipped the 7th district into his column. Ciattarelli, on the other hand, would only have had to win statewide by less than a point to carry the 6th district and win a congressional majority.
What ultimately saved Murphy’s re-election were the state’s remaining five districts: the 1st (Murphy +15.3), 8th (Murphy +47.5), 9th (Murphy +16), 10th (Murphy +65.8), and 12th (Murphy +25.5). The urban and heavily diverse 8th and 10th districts in particular provided Murphy with colossal margins that Ciattarelli couldn’t possibly match in his own friendly turf.
Still, even as they gave Murphy hundreds of thousands of votes, the state’s blue areas lagged significantly behind red areas in the total number of votes. Casting just over 278,000 votes, the 11th district was the state’s most prolific voter, while the 3rd, 4th, and 5th districts also each cast more than 270,000 votes; all were won by Ciattarelli.
For comparison, the heavily Democratic 8th and 10th districts cast only around 115,000 and 150,000 votes, respectively, though some of that disparity can be attributed to the fact that New Jersey’s bluest areas have fewer registered voters to begin with.
To put that turnout difference in perspective, Murphy got more votes in the 4th district, the state’s reddest, than he did in the 8th, its second-bluest; he got around 108,000 in the former, and just 84,000 in the latter.
Congressional redistricting will soon make these numbers functionally moot, and many of the state’s competitive districts could end up swinging heavily towards one party or the other under the new lines.
Yet regardless of how the new map shakes out, Ciattarelli’s victory in the 3rd, 5th, 7th, and 11th districts is a warning sign for Democrats ahead of a potentially tough midterm election, where each of New Jersey’s seats could make the difference between a Democratic majority and a Republican takeover.
Note: Results have not been certified, and a very small number of votes may still yet be added across the state. Additionally, New Jersey does not allocate early votes, provisional ballots, or mail-in votes by election district; this analysis can therefore only approximate vote totals in split municipalities. Any difference between this approximation and the true breakdown is likely minor, however.