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

Murphy sails to primary win unopposed

By Nikita Biryukov, June 08 2021 8:00 pm

New Jersey’s Democratic voters have once again picked Phil Murphy as their candidate for governor.

“I’m honored and humbled that my fellow Democrats have once again put their faith in me to serve as their nominee for Governor of New Jersey. Together, through a broad coalition of New Jerseyans from all backgrounds, we showed unity and strength in our shared goal of moving New Jersey forward,” he said. “Over the last three-plus years, we’ve made tremendous progress to build a stronger, fairer, and more resilient state not just for today, but for generations to come.”

The incumbent, a former U.S. ambassador to Germany, was unopposed in his bid for the nomination. Two candidates filed to run against him in April, but both were knocked off the ballot after challenges to their nominating petitions found they did not gather enough valid signatures.

A judge found zero of the 1,951 signatures submitted by challenger Lisa McCormick were valid, and another judge found 305 of the 1290 signatures Roger Bacon filed with were invalid. Gubernatorial candidates need 1,000 signatures to earn a place on the ballot.

Murphy goes into his re-election race as a governor popular for his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic. A Rutgers-Eagleton poll released Monday found 55% of the state’s residents approved of the job he was doing, while only 35% disapproved.

A plurality of the state’s adults, 47%, had a favorable view of the former Goldman Sachs investment banker, and 36% had an unfavorable one.

A Monmouth University poll released last month had similar findings, pegging his favorability at 50%. A near identical number of respondents, 34%, reported an unfavorable view of the governor.

Murphy goes into re-election having accomplished many of the promises he made on the campaign trail in 2017.

Voters legalized adult-use recreational marijuana at the polls last year, and the Cannabis Regulatory Commission is in the process of setting up New Jersey’s legal cannabis market.

The state has enacted a $15 minimum wage that’s set to phase in in 2024. He’s proposed the first full payment into the state’s pensions in more than two decades, and lawmakers are now considering making an even larger payment in an effort to more quickly rally the state’s finances.

He’s expanded access to higher education, launching a program to provide free tuition to New Jersey’s community colleges and mandated employers provide their workers with paid sick leave.

The governor has presided over the strengthening of the state’s gun laws and increased staffing levels at NJ Transit responsible for many of the beleaguered transportation network’s delays.

He’s also signed a tax on the state’s millionaires into law, despite warring with Democratic leaders in the legislature over the campaign promise in the early years of his tenure.

But the governor’s tenure has not been without controversy. He faced questions over his administration’s handling of a sexual assault allegation lodged against a member of his campaign who later became a high-ranking official at the Schools Development Authority.

He also faced criticism for signing into law a set of controversial tax incentive programs that took less than a week to reach his desk after being signed into law.

Though the governor initially butted heads with Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-West Deptford) and Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin (D-Woodbridge), much of that drama evaporated when COVID-19 came to New Jersey.

The Democratic leaders have since adopted a sort of détente that’s seen the governor’s relations with South Jersey powerbroker George Norcross warm after a series of tense — and sometimes outwardly vitriolic — exchanges.

Murphy’s re-election campaign proceeded with support from each of the state’s Democratic county organizations, and residents have broadly viewed the governor’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic in a positive light.

The virus reached New Jersey on the same day the former Democratic National Committee finance chairman had surgery to remove a cancerous tumor from his left kidney.

COVID-19 ravaged the state for months. Thousands died in New Jersey’s long-term care facilities despite the governor’s cautious — Republicans would say overly cautious — approach to virus restrictions.

He’s continued to face criticism from the GOP over masking restrictions for children after lifting the state’s mask mandate and gathering restrictions in most instances.

But the state’s demographics have trended his way over the past four years. 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.

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