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Former Assemblyman Jack Ciattarelli. (Photo: Kevin Sanders for New Jersey Globe)

GOP candidates for governor make their final push

By Nikita Biryukov, June 07 2021 4:43 am

Republican candidates for governor are making their final push for votes ahead of Tuesday’s primary.

Frontrunner Jack Ciattarelli is focusing on Gov. Phil Murphy and his handling of the pandemic, seeking to leverage business closures and virus deaths to get on November’s ballot.

The candidate was in Northfield Sunday morning with candidates in the second legislative district for a canvass launch and rally, following the event with door-knocking in Hammonton and another rally in Medford. He’ll continue those efforts to get out the vote Monday and Tuesday.

“We’ve worked very, very hard and I always feel good when the right effort’s been put in, and we’ve put in the right effort,” he said.

Ciattarelli has a stunning cash advantage, being the only Republican to qualify for public matching funds, and he has the support of the state’s Republican county organizations. That support comes with an advantageous ballot position, not to mention party resources.

He faces three opponents in his bid for the party nod to take on Murphy. Hirsh Singh is making his second bid for governor, while former Somerset County Freeholder Brian Levine and Phil Rizzo are making their first runs for the office.

Singh and Rizzo, a Hudson County pastor, did not return requests for campaign schedules made Friday.

Each of those candidates has made a bid to stake themselves out as the race’s pro-Trump candidate, hoping to draw on the former president’s popularity within the Republican party.

Though he has embraced Trump as well, Ciattarelli has struck a more moderate tone on the former president, attempting to keep the bulk of his messaging fixed on Murphy and the problems he says the incumbent has caused the state.

Levine, a longshot for the governorship, is running a low-dollar campaign. His plan in recent days has taken him to shore communities, where he hopes to canvass enough votes to bring a victory on Tuesday.

He was in Atlantic City in Sunday’s blistering heat, walking the boardwalk with a campaign sign in hand and flagging down beachgoers who caught his eye. He acknowledged the disadvantages he had going into the race.

“I know the reality of people who have money and have been doing it for years, as opposed to months for me,” he said, adding, “I tend to be an optimist.”

He lacks money, and his effort to convince voters is largely his own. Ciattarelli, by contrast, launched about 50 canvassers from Rep. Jeff Van Drew’s (R-Dennis) Northfield headquarters Sunday morning.

Singh has dubiously claimed he’s the race’s only pro-Trump candidate, though he’s still out on the trail looking for votes. That took him to a roving farmers market Sunday.

Rizzo was also out in the state’s shore communities, also making his pitch as a pro-Trump conservative.

The candidates final push will undoubtedly bring them back onto the campaign trail Monday and Tuesday. But voters will likely see Ciattarelli’s face on the airwaves before polls close Tuesday. The candidate’s spent millions on advertisements.

Singh and Rizzo aren’t without their own spots, though Ciattarelli, a former Assemblyman, is the only Republican to qualify for the state’s public fund match, a program that’s already seen him receive millions in public dollars to make his pitch to voters.

“I’m confident we’re going to win the primary,” Ciattarelli said. “That doesn’t mean we’re taking anything for granted, but we’ve put in the effort. We have all 21 county lines. We’ve done a magnificent job.”

Polls have shown the race to be a relatively tight one, with Singh polling only a few behind Ciattarelli, though the frontrunner’s campaign’s worries over the perennial candidates bid were assuaged somewhat following a confrontation between Singh campaign manager King Penna and Melinda Ciattarelli, the candidate’s wife.

Penna accosted her during a debate in late May. Ciattarelli’s team says they’ve seen some voters peel away from the Singh campaign over the incident.

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