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New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy projected to win reelection after surprisingly tight race

New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy greets supporters as he campaigns with U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders in New Brunswick, New Jersey, U.S., October 28, 2021.

Eduardo Munoz | Reuters

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy won his bid for reelection after an unexpectedly tight contest with Republican Jack Ciattarelli, according to an NBC News projection.

The call came after the vote count dragged beyond Election Day.

Murphy, a Democrat, had been leading Ciattarelli, a businessman, in public polls going into Election Day.

But Murphy’s lead had markedly shrunk since May, when the 64-year-old former Goldman Sachs executive was polling 26 percentage points higher than Ciattarelli.

No incumbent Democratic governor in the Garden State had won reelection since Brendan Byrne did so in 1977.

Ciattarelli had hammered away in recent weeks at Murphy for raising taxes during his tenure, running ads that featured Murphy saying in 2019, “If you’re a one-issue voter and tax rate is your issue, we’re probably not your state.”

New Jersey was one of two states with gubernatorial elections this year. In Virginia, Republican Glenn Youngkin defeated Democratic nominee Terry McAuliffe, who had previously served a term in that state’s governor’s office.

Both states’ races were being closely watched to see if their outcomes reflect the political fortunes of President Joe Biden — a Democrat who recently has seen his public approval ratings fall — and to see if they foretell the fate of Democrats next year as they try to maintain control of both chambers of Congress.

Democrats in New Jersey hold an advantage of 1 million registered voters over Republicans, and the state has been won by every Democratic presidential nominee in the past three decades.

But the state also has a strong contrarian streak, having elected as governor the candidate of the party opposite that of the party holding the White House in every race since 1985.

Murphy was acutely aware of that.

“Our team shows up, we win. Our team doesn’t show up, and it’s a coin toss. We cannot afford a coin toss,” the Democrat said at a voter rally Monday night in South Orange.

Before then, Murphy’s reelection bid had gotten support through visits to the state by a number of leading national Democrats, among them Biden, former President Barack Obama, first lady Jill Biden, and Douglas Emhoff, the husband of Vice President Kamala Harris.

Ciattarelli, 59, previously served as a member of the New Jersey General Assembly, representing the 16th district from 2011 to 2018. He unsuccessfully sought the 2017 Republican nomination for governor, losing to Kim Guadagno, whom Murphy soundly defeated.

Ciattarelli, who is a certified public accountant, founded a medical publishing company.

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