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President Barack Obama campaigns for Gov. Jon Corzine. (Photo: Corzine for Governor.)

New Jersey tends to elect a new governor in the year a new president takes office

Florio and Corzine lost after Democrats took the White House, Democrat reclaimed governorship after Trump election

By David Wildstein, December 09 2020 1:04 pm

Newly elected presidents are almost always followed by new governors of New Jersey.

Since 1953, ten new presidents saw New Jersey elect a new governor in their inauguration year, and the president saw a governor of the opposite political party win the gubernatorial race in five of the last six transition years.

New Jersey began holding gubernatorial elections in the year following a presidential election in 1949, two years after voters approved a new State Constitution.  Before that, governors served three-year terms and were not eligible to run for re-election.

Democrat Harry Truman was re-elected in 1948, and Republican Gov. Alfred Driscoll became the first New Jersey governor to win a second consecutive term in 1949.

In 1953, the year Republican Dwight Eisenhower was inaugurated as president, Democrat Robert Meyner was elected governor.

Both Eisenhower and Meyner were term limited after eight years; they were followed by Democrats John F. Kennedy in 1960 and Gov. Richard Hughes in 1961.  Hughes scored an upset victory after the GOP nominee, former U.S. Secretary of Labor James Mitchell, broke his leg in the fall and missed weeks of campaigning in an era when retail politics mattered in New Jersey elections.

After Republican Richard Nixon was elected president in 1968, New Jersey followed up by electing a Republican governor, William Cahill, to succeeed Hughes.

New Jerseyans gave Nixon a 743,291-vote plurality in 1972, 61.6% to 36.8% against George McGovern in 1972.  In 1973, Democrat Brendan Byrne won the governorship by 738,378 votes, 67%-32%, after Cahill lost renomination in the GOP primary.

Democrat Jimmy Carter won the presidency in 1976 – New Jersey voted for incumbent Gerald Ford – and Byrne won a come-from-behind re-election bid in 1977.

Republican Ronald Reagan beat Carter in 1980, and Republican Tom Kean was elected governor in 1981 after Byrne was term-limited.  New Jersey repeated in 1984 and 1985 with landslide wins for Reagan and Kean.

Gov. Christine Todd Whitman greets President Bill Clinton in 1994. (Photo: Eagleton Institute of Politics/Center for the American Governor.)

1988 and 1989 began a string of New Jersey following party changes in the White House with party changes at Drumthwacket.

Republican George H.W. Bush won the presidency in 1988, and Democrat Jim Florio was elected governor in 1989.

Democrat Bill Clinton defeated Bush in 1992 and Republican Christine Todd Whitman ousted Florio in 1993.

Bush carried New Jersey in 1988, but Clinton won it in 1992.  Bush was the last Republican presidential candidate to carry New Jersey.

Republican George W. Bush was elected president in 2000 and Democrat James E. McGreevey won the 2001 gubernatorial race.   Bush was re-elected in 2004 and New Jersey elected another Democrat, Jon Corzine, as governor in 2005.

After Democrat Barack Obama won the presidency in 2008, New Jersey responded by electing a Republican governor.  Chris Christie ousted Corzine.

New Jersey had a repeat when Obama was re-elected in 2012 – some day with a boost from Christie during a high-profile Jersey shore appearance following superstorm Sandy – and Christie won again in 2013.

After Republican Donald Trump was elected president in 2016, New Jersey elected a Democratic governor, Phil Murphy.

As he prepares to seek re-election to a second term next year, Murphy must stop two traditions: the tendency for New Jersey to elect a Republican governor now that Joe Biden is about to become president; and the modern trend of New Jersey, one of the nation’s most Democratic states, not re-electing a Democratic governor in 44 years.

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