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Gov. Phil Murphy was in Morristown on Tuesday to announce an executive order on gun safety, but the Democratic candidates in a hotly contested race for State Assembly skipped the event.
Democrats Lisa Bhimani and Darcy Draeger did not attend the Murphy announcement, despite gun safety emerging as one of their top issues in a race to unseat five-term Republican Anthony M. Bucco (R-Boonton).
Bucco, who has a 100% rating from the National Rifle Association, has sought to link Bhimani and Draeger to a governor who is upside-down in the Morris-based 25th district.
Murphy has favorables of 29%-47% in the 25th, according to internal polling data obtained by the New Jersey Globe. He has a job approval rating of 34%-64%.
Those numbers are inconsistent with Democratic polling in the next-door 26th district, the Globe was told.
In 2017, Republican Kim Guadagno carried the 25th by a 53%-47% margin against Murphy.
Bucco and his running mate, Denville Councilman Brian Bergen, are trying to connect Bhimani and Draeger to Murphy.
“Once again Bhimani and Draeger are paralyzed by trying to have it both ways. Nowhere to be found in Morristown yesterday, and nowhere to be found on important issues like millions of dollars in school funding cuts, drivers’ licenses for illegal immigrants, massive spending increases and the budget in general,” said Rob Costello, campaign manager for the Bucco-Bergen campaign. “While Anthony Bucco and Brian Bergen have come out against Murphy’s harmful policies and offered proactive, bipartisan solutions to prevent gun violence like RSVP.”
Daniel Fleiss, the campaign manager for Bhimani and Draeger, pushed back on comments from the Republican campaign.
“We welcome everyone to this critical debate because it further highlights Anthony Bucco’s obedient service to his donors at the NRA for the last ten years, putting lives at risk and voting against common-sense gun safety legislation at every turn,” Fleiss said.
Murphy’s decision to stage his announcement in the politically competitive 25th district marks his third consecutive appearance on gun issues in a district where Assembly Democrats think they can pick up seats.
The governor signed gun safety bills in Berkeley Heights in July and went to Westfield in June, days after a man was arrested in the parking lot of a local elementary school holding a .45-caliber handgun with an arsenal of hollow-point bullets.
In the 21st district, which includes Berkeley Heights and Westfield, Democrats Lisa Mandelblatt and Stacey Gunderman are using Assembly Minority Leader Jon Bramnick’s 87% NRA rating as a top issue in their bid to flip two seats.
Murphy did not mention Jon Bramnick in either of his 21st district stops, although in Westfield he called out Senate President Steve Sweeney, a fellow Democrat, for not moving gun safety bills through the Senate.
In Morristown, Murphy never mentioned Bucco, although he did criticize legislators who oppose him on guns in broad terms.
“We need legislators from communities that support common sense gun safety, whether it be communities like Morristown or Westfield, among others,” Murphy said.
While the Democratic governor has avoided directly criticizing Bramnick and Bucco, the top two Republicans in the Assembly minority leadership, he hasn’t hesitated to take some shots at his fellow Democrats.
On Monday, Murphy criticized Democratic legislators for failing to provide driver licenses for illegal immigrants.
His comments have now become an issue in the somewhat quiet 16th district race, where Republican challengers Mark Caliguire and Christine Madrid jumped on the issue.
Caliguire and Madrid want the Democratic incumbents, Andrew Zwicker (D-South Brunswick) and Roy Freiman (D-Hillsborough) to immediately state their opposition to Murphy’s plan.
The Zwicker and Freiman campaign declined comment on Tuesday evening.