New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy, slated to head the Democratic Governors Association in January, refused to say if he’ll support Democratic gubernatorial candidates in Louisiana and Mississippi who support abortion restrictions and oppose gun control.
Murphy on Tuesday sidestepped a question on whether he would endorse Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards for re-election or other Southern Democratic candidates who do not share his views on abortion and guns.
“It’s a question that I’ve not gotten, and I’m the incoming chair but not yet the chair, and I think the DGA, like a lot of institutions, makes an institutional selection as opposed to a particular personal preference, but folks have no question where I am on this issue,” said Murphy, the current DGA vice chairman.
Though Murphy and other Democrats in the northeast tend to hold similar pro-gun-control and pro-choice views, the same can’t be said of all Democrats in the country.
Edwards earned a 93% rating from the National Rifle Association when he ran for governor in 2015. He said last week that he would sign legislation banning abortions after the detection of a fetal heartbeat.
“It’s consistent with my unblemished pro-life record in my years as a legislator and governor,” the Monroe News Star quoted Edwards as saying.
In Mississippi, where the Republican governor is term-limited, the two leading Democratic candidates are considered pro-life and pro-gun.
Attorney General Jim Hood once called himself “a poster child for the second amendment” and his main primary opponent, Hinds County District Attorney Robert Shuler Smith, said he would vote for Mississippi’s plan for abortion restrictions if he were in the state legislature.
Mississippi’s Democratic primary is on Aug. 6.
In Kentucky, Democrat Andy Beshear received an 86% rating from the NRA in 2015, when he ran for state attorney general. He captured the Democratic nomination to take on Republican Gov. Matt Bevin last week after receiving the endorsement of NARAL Pro-Choice America.
Murphy can get away with backing a Democrat for governor in another state without compromising his progressive credentials in New Jersey, says Micah Rasmussen, the director of the Rebovich Institute for New Jersey Politics at Rider University.
“It’s possible to endorse someone without endorsing every one of their positions. It’s possible to say ‘this is someone I support for governor of a different state. This is someone I support for president of the United States. This is somebody I support for this particular office,’” Rasmussen said.
Rasmussen acknowledged that Murphy is being put into an awkward position.
“When you think about the fact that someone running for office in a different state is going to have a full agenda of positions based on the political culture of that state, we understand that if the New Jersey governor supports another candidate, they’re not buying into every position that person’s ever taken,” Rasmussen explained.
Despite his reluctance to take a stand on the policy views of those conservative Democrats, Murphy said he would still be pushing his views on gun control within the DGA.
Murphy’s statements came at a press conference following a roundtable on gun violence Tuesday.
The roundtable followed a spate of gun violence in Trenton, where two mass shootings over Memorial Day weekend left 15 wounded and one dead.
Murphy said the event, which featured remarks from Mayors Reed Gusciora of Trenton, Ras Baraka of Newark and Andre Sayegh of Paterson, among others, was scheduled in advance of the weekend’s events.
“I accept that there are different dynamics in different states, but we’re quite vocal, not just on guns,” Murphy said. “I should just say across the board, we tell the New Jersey Story loud and clear at any gathering of the DGA, whether it’s among governors or in the broader community. We’ll continue to do that.”
There’s disagreement on those broader issues as well.
Murphy, a staunchly pro-choice Democrat, stands in opposition to the views of Edwards, Hood and Smith on abortion.
Both Mississippi candidates said they would likely have supported a bill banning abortions after a fetal heartbeat is detected. Such heartbeats can appear as early as six weeks into a pregnancy, before many women know they are pregnant.
Murphy’s position within the DGA puts him in a somewhat difficult situation politically.
New Jersey’s governor has styled himself as a progressive’s progressive.
He backs abortion rights, gun control, taxes on high earners and other priorities of the party’s left wing, but as a leader within the DGA, his job is to keep Democratic governors in office and keep Republicans out of the same.
Once Murphy assumes the DGA chairmanship next year, he will likely face additional challenges of supporting Democratic candidates for governor to his right in states like Missouri, Indiana, Montana and West Virginia.
The top priority for Democrats nationally in 2020 is expected to the re-election of North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper.
Last month, Cooper vetoed a bill that would provide penalties for physicians and nurses who don’t provide care to babies that survive an abortion procedure.
Differences in political climates can make things awkward for Murphy as he prepares to step on the national stage.
“Let’s face it. We are 50 states. The political culture in New Jersey is different than it is in Louisiana, and if we all stuck to our own political culture in our own state, national parties would not be successful if they did not find a way to broaden their support across many political cultures, so the Democratic party needs to be representative of more than just the political culture of New Jersey,” said Rasmussen. “It needs to reflect the political culture in Kentucky and Louisiana as well.