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Gov. Phil Murphy. (Photo: Kevin Sanders for the New Jersey Globe).

Murphy predicts his primary campaign will be mostly virtual

Governor declines to say how much time he’ll spend on the trail before June 8

By Nikita Biryukov, April 19 2021 2:52 pm

Gov. Phil Murphy said his uncontested bid for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination would tend towards virtual events, though he declined Monday to say how much time he expected to spend seeking re-election between now and June 8.

“I don’t have a budgeted time. What we’ve been doing is a lot of Zooms. I have to, obviously, be careful. I can’t be in a government building doing anything political, so I end up pulling up stakes and go somewhere else, and that’ll continue to be the case,” Murphy said. “A lot of it’s virtual.”

Murphy is the only candidate for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination after the Democratic State Committee launched successful challenges to nominating petitions filed by shadowy perennial candidate Lisa McCormick and perennial candidate Roger W. Bacon.

McCormick and Bacon were knocked off the ballot, though the former said she would mount a write-in campaign.

That development puts Murphy into an interesting position. He’s already received the $4.6 million in public matching funds available for the primary and will have to spend that money — plus another potential $2.7 million from donor contributions — before polls close on June 8.

That opens the doors on a sizeable ad blitz in a year where political spots could otherwise be in short supply. It’s not clear that’ll be the case, but Murphy signaled he and his campaign wouldn’t be asleep at the wheel while Republicans seek to anoint his general election opponent.

“Frank Lautenberg had that great line: There’s only two ways to run — scared or unopposed,” Murphy said in response to a question at Monday’s virus briefing. “Whether we’re opposed or not, we run scared, and this is not a venue for politics, but I will say we run like we’re 10 behind.”

The governor further signaled that he would seek to avoid mass-gathering events that run the risk of spreading COVID-19, keeping in tune with election strategy employed by some New Jersey Democrats during last year’s races.

“Given we’re in a pandemic, my guess is it won’t be the traditional big rallies that you associate in a normal time with a political campaign, but we’re taking it very seriously,” he said.

But he could have fewer options than were available last year. For one, a bill he signed into law last month barred electioneering within 100 feet of a ballot drop box. Congressional candidates, and others, last year held rallies around the drop boxes as a means of encouraging voters to return their mail-in ballots.

But elections this year won’t be held entirely through mail-in ballots, and it’s unclear how much the drop box electioneering prohibition will matter, if it does at all.

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