Gov. Phil Murphy formally will begin his bid for a second term today, filing a campaign committee with the New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission allowing him to immediately begin raising money for his re-election bid.
The move allows Murphy to get a jump on fundraising during the 4th quarter of 2020. New Jersey requires candidates to file with ELEC within ten days of receiving the first contribution or making the initial expenditure.
“Filing with ELEC is a procedural step that will allow our campaign to legally begin raising money for the 2021 Primary Election,” said Caitlin Mota, a spokesperson for the Murphy campaign. “Governor Murphy remains focused on leading New Jersey through the COVID-19 pandemic and building a stronger and fairer economy for every family.”
First Lady Tammy Murphy told supporters in an email today that she will serve as finance chair for her husband’s re-election campaign.
“Please know that Phil will continue to focus almost exclusively on the government and ensuring New Jersey is as strong and fair as possible moving forward. I will serve as Finance Chair of the campaign and will raise the requisite monies as quickly as I can, in order that we both can maintain our focus on the work at hand,” the First Lady said in the email, which was obtained by the New Jersey Globe. “I will reach out personally to you in the coming days by phone but wanted to be sure you heard about this directly from us.”
The filing also makes it clear that Murphy intends to seek re-election with Lt. Gov. Sheila Oliver next year.
State law does not require gubernatorial candidates to declare their running mate until after the primary election, but Murphy’s campaign said today that the filing will allow the governor and Oliver to begin raising money.
The New Jersey Globe has learned that the Murphy campaign will not begin hiring campaign staff until later this year and that Rafi Jafri, one of the state’s top fundraisers, has signed on the run the early effort to build the governor’s coffers over the next three months.
“At this point, the campaign will consist primarily of a fundraising operation,” Mota said. “As we near the most important election of our lifetimes, the Governor is committed to helping elect Joe Biden, elect and reelect our Democratic congressional delegation, and help lead Democrats up and down the ballot to victory on November 3rd.”
Murphy wants to become the first Democratic governor of New Jersey to win re-election since Brendan Byrne in 1977. Despite New Jersey’s blue state leanings – Democrats have a voter registration edge of more than 1 million – the state has elected and re-elected a Republican governor three times since Byrne’s re-election 43 years ago.
Murphy’s intent to seek re-election is not exactly a surprise.
On Sunday, Oliver told a group of Democrats during a Women for Biden training session Zoom meeting that Murphy would be on the ballot in 2021.
A Monmouth University poll released in April put Murphy’s job approvals at 71%-21%, a meteoric jump from a 41%-38% approval ratings in September 2019.
Most pundits agree that Murphy received a substantial bump from his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic and suggest that the numbers will drop – at least a little bit – going into the next election.
Still, it’s clear that Murphy has finally connected with New Jersey voters and with Democrats who gave him a 92%-5% approval rating in the April poll.
While Election Day 2020 is still more than one year away, county Democratic committees will begin holding conventions and screening committees to award organization lines for the June primary in about six months.
It’s not immediately clear whether Murphy will seek public financing for the Democratic primary, or if he’ll even have an opponent.
Assemblyman Jamel Holley (D-Roselle) and former Assistant New Jersey Attorney General Shavar Jeffries have told the New Jersey Globe that they were considering a challenge to Murphy in the Democratic primary.
So far, the only announced Republican candidate for governor is former Assemblyman Jack Ciattarelli (R-Hillsborough). Ciattarelli got in the race in January.
Assembly Minority Leader Jon Bramnick (R-Westfield), Republican State Chairman Doug Steinhardt, and Joseph Rudy Rullo are also mulling runs for governor.
Murphy eschewed public financing in 2017, winning the Democratic primary with 48% of the vote against former Assistant U.S. Secretary of the Treasury Jim Johnson (21.9%) and Assemblyman John Wisniewski (21.6%).
In the general election, Murphy qualified for the maximum $9.3 million in public financing. He defeated the Republican nominee, Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno, by a 56%-42% margin.
The last two Democratic governors who sought re-election were defeated: Jon Corzine in 2009 and Jim Florio in 1993. Gov. James E. McGreevey resigned in 2004 and did not run for a second term.
Murphy’s announcement today follows news that Senate President Steve Sweeney and Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin have secured enough votes to hold on to their posts until at least January 2024.
Republican State Chairman Doug Steinhardt, who is a possible candidate for governor next year, criticized Murphy’s record as governor.
“Governor Murphy hasn’t led New Jersey, he’s failed it,” said Steinhardt. “From 7,100 long term care facility deaths and counting, to federal investigations, State Commission of Investigation reports, motor vehicle agency lines, unemployment agency backlogs, toll increases, tax increases, mishandled rape allegations, and a steady stream of executive orders that robbed New Jerseyans of their rights to earn a living, Phil Murphy has made NJ less affordable, less livable, and less free.”
Steinhardt said New Jerseyans “deserve a government that won’t embarrass them on the national stage, and doesn’t hold our state back from being a land of opportunity and freedom.”
“After we finish defeating his far left comrades across New Jersey this fall, we will ensure our state has a clear choice next November: Murphy taxes, debt, scandal, and incompetence, or the GOP plan of jobs, opportunity for all, and a brighter future for the Garden State,” he said.
This story was updated at 5:34 PM with comment from Steinhardt.