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

Murphy will lead Democratic Governors Association in 2023

New Jersey governor will be National Governors Association chair and DGA vice chair next year

By David Wildstein, December 12 2021 1:18 pm

Governor Phi Murphy is looking at two years of potentially heavy out-of-state travel after securing a second stint as the chairman of the Democratic Governors Association.

Murphy will serve as DGA vice chairman in 2022 and chairman in 2023, the DGA announced on Sunday.  He will become the first governor to serve a second term as head of the Democratic Governors Association since the precursor of the group was formed in 1965.

At the same time, the recently re-elected New Jersey governor is serving as the vice chairman o f the National Governors Association.  In July 2022, Murphy is set to assume the NGA chairmanship.

Gubernatorial contests in three southern states – Louisiana, Mississippi and Kentucky – could put Murphy in the thick of races where major issues like abortion and guns might put his own beliefs at odds with many Democrats in those states.

But Murphy’s progressive stances on state and national issues won’t necessarily hurt Democrats running in those states.

“The DGA position is primarily a fundraising position,” said Jessica Taylor, the Senate and Governors Editor of the non-partisan Cook Political Report.  “The average voter will nt know who the DGA chair is.”

Taylor said that voters will be more likely to hear names like Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez and Nancy Pelosi than Murphy in states where Republicans will make guns and abortion an issue.

“We’re seeing governor’s races becoming increasingly nationalized,” she said.

If Murphy’s main responsibility is to raise money, his resumption of the DGA leadership post will likely add to the portfolio of the governor’s fundraiser-in-chief, First Lady Tammy Murphy.

Murphy was the DGA vice chair in 2019 and chair in 2020.  The coronavirus pandemic prevented Murphy from traveling the country last year in support of Democratic gubernatorial candidates and left him spending his time on the telephone and in Zoom meetings.

On his watch, Democrats re-elected governors in North Carolina – their most important battleground state – along with Delaware and Washington.   Republican governors won in Indiana, Missouri, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Vermont and West Virginia.  The GOP also held an open governorship in Utah.

In Montana, New Jersey transplant Greg Gianforte, a Republican congressman, was elected governor.  That was a pickup for the GOP after term-limited Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock ran unsuccessful bids for the presidency, and then the United States Senate.

Democrats face tough map in 2023

Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear, a pro-choice Democrat who ousted Republican Gov. Matt Bevin by just 4,136 votes (49.2%-48.8%) in 2019, is seeking re-election.  So far, the only announced candidate against Beshear is State Auditor Mike Harmon.

But Murphy could potentially find it difficult to even get behind the Democratic nominee in Louisiana and Mississippi, the other two states with gubernatorial elections in two years.

Both states nominated pro-life, pro-gun candidates in 2019 and Murphy, as the DGA vice chair that year, sidestepped endorsing either of the Democratic candidates.

In Louisiana, Gov. John Bel Edwards, a conservative Democrat who was re-elected with 51.3% in 2019, is term-limited.  Edwards signed a law that banned abortion after fifteen weeks of pregnancy, and he signed a package of gun rights bills backed by the National Rifle Organization.

Taylor said Democrats face an uphill battle in Louisiana, “unless they find another John Bell Edwards.”

The Democratic nominee for governor of Mississippi two years ago, state Attorney General Don Hood, “referred to himself as “a poster child for the Second Amendment,” and as a Pro-Life Democrat.

The Republican governor of Mississippi, Tate Reeves, has not yet announced if he will seek a second term.  Mississippi is ground zero in the national fight to overturn Roe v. Wade and the U.S. Supreme Court recently heard oral arguments in a case to uphold the state’s 15-week abortion ban Reeves signed that might lead to an overturning of the landmark 1973 decision that legalizes abortion.

Reeves beat Hood with 52% of the vote in 2019 in a state that hasn’t elected a Democratic governor since 1999.  Edwards was re-elected with 51% after a runoff two years ago.

According to Taylor, Murphy can make the case that Democratic donors might hold their noses and support more conservative candidates in the southern gubernatorial races in 2023 because of their impact on regaining the White House in 2024.

“Just having a Democratic governor in place helps if Donald Trump runs against,” said Taylor, who cited issues like challenges to the way votes are counted.in American elections.

Murphy’s greatest impact could be as DGA vice chairman next year, when 39 governorships will be on the ballot during President Joe Biden’s mid-term elections.

Democrats are looking at flipping two seats currently held by moderate Republicans: Massachusetts, Gov. Charlie Baker, Murphy’s high school classmate, is not seeking a third term, and Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan is term-limited.

The Cook Political Report lists four Democratic governors –Gretchen Whitmer in Michigan, Laura Kelly in Kansas, Steve Sisolak in Nevada, and Tony Evers in Wisconsin – as toss-ups.  An open seat in Pennsylvania, where Gov Tom Wolf is term-limited, is also a toss-up.

Republicans are defending 20 governorships, including an open seat in Arizona – Gov. Rob Ducey is term-limited – and in Georgia, where Gov. Brian Kemp faces a GOP primary challenge from David Perdue, a former U.S. Senator who has Trump’s backing.  The winner of that primary will face former state House Minority Leader Stacey Abrams, who has emerged as a national Democratic leader on voting rights issues since her narrow 54,723-vote loss, 50.2%-48.8%, to Kemp in 2018.

Murphy is the third New Jersey governor to lead his party’s political arm: Brendan Byrne ran the DGA in 1980 and Chris Christie was the RGA chairman in 2014.

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