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Murphy hedges on Sanders

Governor needs legislators to believe he’ll have their back

By David Wildstein, March 01 2018 2:43 pm

Phil Murphy made an enormous deal out of an endorsement from Levi Sanders last winter when he was seeking the Democratic nomination for governor.  Murphy needed Bernie Sanders’ son to vouch for his progressive credentials in a primary against John Wisniewski, the New Jersey chairman of the Sanders for President campaign – and to help Murphy distance himself from his old Goldman Sachs ties.  Levi Sanders made several trips to New Jersey – maybe five or six – to campaign for Murphy.  He drew decent crowds, and Murphy tweeted out the details with the hashtag #philandlevi.

Now Levi Sanders is seeking the Democratic nomination for an open congressional seat in New Hampshire and Murphy hasn’t returned the favor of an endorsement.  On Tuesday, the governor’s office referred comment to a campaign spokesman, who referred the matter back to Trenton.  On Thursday morning, the governor’s office flipped the question back to the campaign.

Now Murphy is playing things a little cute, talking about raising money, according to a published report, but not necessarily an early and bold endorsement of a close friend who went all in on his behalf.

It’s possible that Murphy doesn’t want to offend Democrats in New Hampshire, if his political ambitions extend beyond New Jersey.  That might be a responsible strategy – New Hampshire activists have long memories – but someone might want to tell Cory Booker that Murphy is thinking nationally too.

More troublesome for Murphy is the way his Sanders straddling is perceived in New Jersey.  Most Democrats remember the 1991 cycles, when a generation of Democratic legislators had their careers wiped out when they stood with a new governor who proposed huge tax increases.

Murphy, who campaigned as “a governor who will have your back,” needs legislators to believe he’ll help them through a potentially tough 2019 election cycle.  His inability to jump all in to a New Hampshire congressional primary on behalf of a friend could make some New Jersey legislators question whether he’ll really have their back in their next campaign if they risk their own political future for his agenda.

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