Home>Campaigns>In first poll of the 2025 N.J. governor’s race, Democratic race is ‘wide open’ and Ciattarelli is best known Republican

Office of the Governor in Trenton, New Jersey. (Photo: Edwin J. Torres /Governor's Office).

In first poll of the 2025 N.J. governor’s race, Democratic race is ‘wide open’ and Ciattarelli is best known Republican

Fairleigh Dickinson University survey looks at name recognition 10 potential gubernatorial candidates

By David Wildstein, February 09 2023 7:00 am

As New Jersey political insiders consider who might succeed term-limited Gov. Phil Murphy in 2025, Republican Jack Ciattarelli and just marginally, Democrat Mikie Sherrill,  have the highest statewide favorables among members of their respective political parties, with most candidates still undefined, according to a new Fairleigh Dickinson University poll released this morning.

This is the first public statewide poll that tests candidates in a gubernatorial race that is still two years away and only looks at name recognition and not head-to-head contests.

Ciattarelli, a former assemblyman who came within three percentage points of unseating Murphy in 2021, is recognized by 76% of Republicans and has favorables of 47%-6%.  Statewide, Ciattarelli is known to 59% of adult New Jersey residents, with favorables of 22%-16% when Democrats and independents are included.

Three other potential GOP gubernatorial candidates are less known.  NJ 101.5 radio personality Bill Spadea is known to 37% of Republicans and has favorables of 26%-3%, while State Sen. Michael Testa, Jr. (R-Vineland) is recognized by 41% of Republicans with favorables of 20%-1%.   State Sen. Holly Schepisi (R-River-Vale) is at 11%-0% among Republicans.

“Ciattarelli did better than anyone was expecting in 2021, so it makes sense that he wants another shot,” said Dan Cassino, a professor of Government and Politics at FDU, and the director of the poll.  “But in an open race, there are going to be some big guns who want the nomination, and Ciattarelli is going to have a fight on his hands if he wants to get it again.”

Among Democrats, Sherrill, a three-term congresswoman from Montclair, has favorables of 28%-1% and is recognized by 41% of New Jerseyans.

More Democrats (55%) recognize former Senate President Steve Sweeney, but his favorables are nearly split at 19%-16% — the only potential Democratic candidate with double-digit unfavorables.  Sweeney, who is still mulling whether to seek the State Senate seat he lost in a 2021 upset, has publicly stated that he plans to run for governor in two years.

Other potential gubernatorial contenders are better known than Sherrill, who has been on the political scene in New Jersey for less than six years.

More than half the state’s Democrats (54%) recognize the name of Newark Mayor Ras Baraka, whose favorables are 26%-6%, while 34% know about Jersey City Mayor Steve Fulop; his favorables with Democrats is at 17%-4%.

Lt. Gov. Sheila Oliver, a former Assembly Speaker who has won two statewide elections running with Murphy, is recognized by just 50% of Democrats and has a favorable rating of 24%-3%.

The poll also included First Lady Tammy Murphy, who has favorables of 27%-3% among Democrats in the state and has name recognition of 73%.  While some Democrats talk about the First Lady running for office, there is no evidence that she wants to succeed her husband as governor.

“Right now, the race on the Democratic side is wide open,” Cassino said.  “There are a lot of candidates who have been biding their time and waiting for their chance, and this it.”

Cassino said that constraints on the number of possible candidates he could include in the poll forced him to leave out aspirants like Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-Wyckoff), Montclair Mayor Sean Spiller, State Sens. Jon Bramnick (R-Westfield) and Declan O’Scanlon (R-Little Silver), and former Assemblyman John Wisniewski (D-Sayreville).

“Sherrill has an early lead in favorability, and she’s proven herself as a world-class fundraiser,” Cassino said.  “But New Jersey is still often driven by history and connections, and that could give insiders like Sweeney or Oliver an edge.”

Just days after the last statewide election, Ciattarelli said he intends to run again in 2025.  Spadea has also telegraphed his plan to run for governor.

Cassino suggested that people keep an eye on Schepisi, who moved up to the Senate two years ago after a decade as an assemblyman.

“Schepisi has made an impression on Republicans in Trenton, helped by the fact that she was against vaccine mandates before it was fashionable,” stated Cassino.  “But that hasn’t yet reached the broader Republican electorate.”

Including Republicans and independents, Tammy Murphy is best known statewide, with 65% name identification and favorables of 15%-13%, followed by Sweeney at 57% (15% favorable, 23% unfavorable), Baraka at 50% (17% favorable, 11% unfavorable), Oliver at 44% (14% favorable, 12% unfavorable), Sherrill at 36% (17% favorable, 6% unfavorable), and Fulop at 32% (11% favorable, 9% unfavorable).

With Democrats and independents included, 26% of New Jerseyans recognize Spadea’s name; he’s at 11% favorable and 9% unfavorable.  With 30% knowing who he is, Testa is marginally better known statewide with favorables at 8% and unfavorables at 5%.  Schepisi’s statewide recognition is at 17%, with 5% favorable and 4% unfavorable.

Sweeney is best known in his South Jersey base, where 70% of residents know who he is.  Ciattarelli is most recognized in Northwestern New Jersey (76%) and scores his lowest name identification (50%( in what the poll describes as the state’s urban core: Core: Essex, Hudson, Mercer, Middlesex, and Union counties.   The other prospective candidates are better known by people closer to their home base.

But some voters lie about which candidates they recognize, the poll shows.

Cassino also polled two made-up names, Paula Hawkins and Vance Kassebaum, to set a baseline.  He randomly assigned their political parties and identified them to voters alternately as a mayor and State Assembly member.   Statewide, 13% recognized Hawkins, and 10% said they knew who Kassebaum was.

(For political junkies: Paula Hawkins, who died in 2009, represented Florida in the U.S. Senate from 1981 to 1987, and Nancy Landon Kassebaum was U.S. Senator from Kansas from 1979 to 1997.)

The FDU poll was conducted between February 1 and February 6 with a sample size of 808 adult New Jersey residents and a margin of error of +/- 3.5%.

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