Former Assemblyman Jack Ciattarelli has clinched the Republican nod to run for governor, the New Jersey Globe projects.
“Tonight New Jerseyans showed they are ready for a change, and we are just getting started,” he said. “The fact is, after four years of Murphy’s failed leadership, our state is struggling. New Jersey pays the highest property taxes in the nation. Small businesses have been decimated. 8,000 seniors and veterans died. New Jerseyans from Cape May to High Point have been forgotten and ignored. We need a governor who puts New Jersey first. A governor who will listen to and respect everyone, even those who may disagree.
Ciattarelli, a certified public accountant, will defeat three others to win the nomination to challenge Gov. Phil Murphy, who was unopposed in the Democratic primary after two of his would-be opponents were dropped from the ballot following successful challenges to their nominating petitions.
Perennial candidate Hirsh Singh and Hudson County pastor Phil Rizzo ran as fervently pro-Trump Republicans in a state where the former president remains a driving force among GOP voters despite his unpopularity with the broader electorate.
Former Somerset County Freeholder Brian Levine ran a longshot candidacy for governor that drew in few dollars and even less attention.
Ciattarelli made his bid with support of every Republican county organization that affords candidates a position on the party line. The preferential ballot position offers a sizeable advantage for party-endorsed candidates.
He focused much of his primary campaign on attacks over Murphy’s handling of the pandemic, striking him over deaths in the state’s nursing homes, mask rules and remote schooling.
His own primary contest drew less of his attention until polls showed the race to be tighter-than-expected, but he was the only Republican to qualify for the state’s public fund matching program.
The Somerset County native used that money for an ad blitz against his primary rivals, Singh chief among them.
The contest for the Republican nod was upended by Trump supporters’ Jan. 6 assault on the U.S. Capitol. What had widely been expected to be a two-man race shifted drastically after former State Republican Chairman Doug Steinhardt abruptly withdrew from the contest days after the attack.
Steinhardt, who is also Warren County Republican chairman, had tied himself and his bid for the governorship to Trump.
Demographic trends in the Garden State are against Ciattarelli.
There are now 1,089,493 more Democrats in New Jersey than there are Republicans, up from the 879,612-voter registration edge Democrats had when Murphy was elected in 2017, and while the incumbent’s approval and favorability ratings have dropped from their astronomical pandemic highs, he remains popular among most of the state’s residents.
The former assemblyman has a long history in elected office. He served for five years on Raritan’s Borough Council and was later a Somerset County Freeholder. Ciattarelli left the latter post to join the legislature, eventually giving up his Assembly seat to run for governor in 2017.
He finished second in that contest, losing to then-Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno 31%-47%.
This article was updated with comment from Ciattarelli at 11:17 p.m.