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New Jersey Gov. Robert B. Meyner heads to the 1960 Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles with the hopes of emerging as the party's choice if delegates deadlocked between John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson. (Photo: Lafayette College).

New Jersey governors and presidential primaries

By David Wildstein, February 21 2022 12:20 am

Gov. Phil Murphy was the first governor to stay out of the presidential race in 28 years, leaving Democratic county chairs — and in some cases, Democratic County Committee members — to award the organization line in the 2020 New Jersey presidential primary.

He had backed favorite son Cory Booker for president, but didn’t take sides again until after Bernie Sanders dropped out of the race and Joe Biden had clinched the nomination.

Recent governors have pushed party leaders to back their preferred White House pick.

Gov. Chris Christie delivered New Jersey Republicans to Mitt Romney in 2012 and Donald Trump in 2016.

Gov. Jon Corzine backed Hillary Clinton in 2008 and James E. McGreevey endorsed Howard Dean in 2004.

The 2008 primary was held in February – on Super Tuesday.  Clinton won New Jersey by a 54%-44% margin over Barack Obama.  The delegate split was 59 for Clinton and 48 for Obama.

Dean was already out of the race by the New Jersey primary and John Kerry took all 106 delegates and 92% of the vote.

Gov. Christine Todd Whitman endorsed Bob Dole in 1996 and George W. Bush in 2000.

In 1992, Gov. Jim Florio refused to support any of the Democrats seeking the presidency.  Only Bill Clinton openly courted Florio, who remained hugely unpopular after raising taxes by $2.8 billion.

Clinton won all of New Jersey’s 105 delegates in a 61%-19% rout of Jerry Brown, the last remaining candidate by the time of the June primary.

Gov. Tom Kean, who flirted with his own presidential bid in 1988, wound up endorsing George Bush.

Presidential primaries were politically disastrous for Gov. Brendan Byrne.

Byrne’s endorsed candidate in 1976 won just 23 delegates in the New Jersey primary, with an uncommitted slate favoring Jerry Brown or Hubert Humphrey wining 75 delegate seats.  Three additional delegates were won by Morris Udall.

In 1980, Ted Kennedy defeated Carter by a 56%-37% margin in the New Jersey primary despite Byrne’s support of the president. Kennedy won 68 delegates and Carter took 45.

In 1968, Gov. Richard Hughes headed an uncommitted slate of organization candidates for delegate that won 62 of 82 delegates, with 19 going for Eugene McCarthy.

No candidates appeared on the ballot in a non-binding presidential preference primary.

In a race that was decided entirely by write-in votes, Eugene McCarthy defeated Robert F. Kennedy by a 38%-33% margin – 9,906 to 8,603.  Humphrey finished third with 5,578 votes (22%), followed by George Wallace with 1,399 votes (5%).  Lyndon Johnson, who had announced he would not seek re-election, received 380 votes (1%).

Hughes delivered New Jersey’s 62 delegates to Humphrey on the first ballot.

A slate of delegate candidates backed by Gov. Robert Meyner won all 41 New Jersey delegates in the 1960 New Jersey Democratic primary.

Meyner was interested in the presidency, but never formally entered the race; he had hoped that delegates might turn to him as their candidate if the convention deadlocked between John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson.

New Jersey’s 41 delegates vote for Meyner on the first ballot.

In 1956, Meyner had officially remained neutral in the presidential race, although the governor offered winks and nods for Estes Kefauver.

Kefauver won the non-binding New Jersey primary.  The delegates were controlled by Meyner, who went to the convention still neutral and wound up delivering New Jersey to Adlai Stevenson on the first ballot.

Gov. Alfred Driscoll had initially supported Harold Stassen for president in 1948.  Driscoll, who headed the New Jersey delegates, switched his support to Thomas Dewey, who had beaten Stassen 41%-35% win in the primary.

In 1952, Driscoll backed Dwight Eisenhower for president.  New Jersey have Eisenhower a decisive 61%-36% primary victory over Robert Taft.  That caused Taft’s top New Jersey supporter, U.S. Senator Robert Hendrickson, to switch sides.

New Jersey governors backed incumbents Lyndon Johnson (Hughes, 1964), Richard Nixon (William Cahill, 1972), and Ronald Reagan (Kean, 1984).

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