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Drumthwacket, the official residence of the governor. (Photo: NJ Globe File Photo).

This week in the gubernatorial race

One final debate, the race’s first newspaper endorsement, and more

By Joey Fox, October 16 2021 10:57 am

This gubernatorial debate recap is brought to you by the NJEA (kidding)

Republican gubernatorial nominee Jack Ciattarelli and Gov. Phil Murphy met in Glassboro on Tuesday for the campaign’s final debate. It mostly covered similar ground as the first debate, with both Ciattarelli and Murphy remaining testy in their interactions with one another and obfuscatory in their answers to moderators’ questions.

Ciattarelli did raise some eyebrows for the increasingly moderate stances he took, most notably his belief that New Jersey should codify Roe v. Wade into state law if the U.S. Supreme Court overturns it. Still, he said he doubts the Supreme Court will do so, and stopped short of supporting the Reproductive Freedom Act currently languishing in the legislature.

But the true standout of the night was, unfortunately, the audience, whose cheers and boos swelled throughout the debate before finally cresting during Murphy’s closing statement, nearly drowning out the governor’s words.

Hammonton makes, the world takes

First Lady Jill Biden visited Edison yesterday to campaign with Murphy and a variety of state and local Democrats, encouraging Democratic voters to utilize the state’s new early voting period. Biden, born in Hammonton, said that she and her husband know the Murphys personally and need them to remain in office as allies of the White House.

*fundraisers not included

One new line of attack for Ciattarelli at the debate was that Murphy has been disregarding his own masking advice, referencing a ball Murphy had spoken at unmasked last week. Murphy defended himself, saying it’s common for speakers at events to take off their masks – but was caught on Wednesday unmasked once again at an event for Monmouth County Democrats, this time even when sitting in the crowd.

An experienced hand at the Helmy

Murphy’s chief of staff George Helmy resigned on Wednesday to work on the final three weeks of the campaign, a sign the Murphy team is laser-focused on winning re-election as convincingly as possible. He’ll be replaced by Murphy’s chief policy advisor, Zakiya Smith Ellis, though the governor’s office left open the possibility that Helmy will return after the campaign is over.

Poll workers – they’re just like us!

On Wednesday, Murphy assuaged concerns of a potential poll worker shortage with an announcement that the state has added more than 13,500 new poll workers in the last week, significantly exceeding the 10,000 it needed. The bounce immediately followed an executive order from Murphy that raised poll worker pay from $200 to $300 and allowed them to work outside their home counties.

Advertisements: State Dems swear their ad is a good idea

Unearthing a controversy from 1994 about the borough of Raritan’s move to ban swearing, state Democrats released a new digital ad this week slamming Ciattarelli, who was on the borough council at the time, for disrespecting Jersey culture. In the words of one of the ad’s many man-on-the-street participants: “You’re sh*ttng me.”

Polls: Ciattarelli needs to eat more early bird specials

A poll conducted by Fairleigh Dickinson University in conjunction with the AARP produced a surprising result on Wednesday: Murphy is up with older voters, by a lot.

The poll found Murphy leading among voters 50 years and older 56-31%, a dominant 25 point margin. The results are somewhat at odds with Monmouth University’s most recent poll, which found Murphy leading voters 65 and older 53-37% but tied 44-44% with voters 50-64. 

Stockton University also released a new poll this week of the 1st legislative district, which found Ciattarelli leading Murphy 46-44%. While Murphy narrowly eked out a win in the district four years ago, the district has been trending rightwards, and a two-point loss for Murphy would still likely mean the governor is well ahead in the state overall.

Endorsements: The Daily News crosses the Hudson

On Monday, Murphy snagged the endorsement of the New York Daily News, the first newspaper to endorse in the race (and the first time the Daily News has issued a New Jersey gubernatorial endorsement since 2009).

A number of other papers – among them the Star-Ledger, the (Bergen) Record, the New York Times, the Philadelphia Inquirer, the New York Post, and several Gannett papers – issued endorsements in 2017, and could do so again. But the consolidation and gutting of local newspapers and their editorial boards means there is a dwindling supply of editorial board endorsements either candidate can hope to get.

Also backing Murphy this week was the Jersey City Police Officers Benevolent Association, representing more than 700 cops in Jersey City. It may not be the Fraternal Order of Police or the state PBA, but the endorsement does help Murphy counter Ciattarelli’s claims that he has no local police unions in his corner.

Finally, the New Jersey chapter of the National Association of Social Workers announced on Thursday that it will withhold its gubernatorial endorsement after endorsing Murphy four years ago, in large part because of Murphy’s dawdling on a tele-health expansion bill.

Fundraising: We are the 98%

Murphy hit 98% of his matching funds limit this week after the New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission (ELEC) released new funds, while Ciattarelli is still at 79% of his limit. That being said, Ciattarelli did outraise Murphy for a fourth consecutive week; ELEC gave the Republican $866,186 this week, versus $761,076 for Murphy.

Coming soon: Thanks, Obama (for promoting early voting)

With the debates now a thing of the past, the final stretch of the race will be all about getting voters to turn out, whether it’s by mail, early in-person, or on Election Day.

To help with this, Murphy’s pulling out the biggest gun he could find: former President Barack Obama, an ally of Murphy’s who campaigned with the governor in 2017 as well. Murphy and Obama will hold a rally to promote early voting in Newark next Saturday, the first day of early voting.

Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff, raised in Matawan and Old Bridge, will also stop by Newark on Tuesday.

Ciattarelli, meanwhile, will be hosting Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna Romney McDaniel for a campaign event in Medford on Tuesday.

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