Governor Phil Murphy Wins a Second Term in Tightly Contested Election


George Thomson

On Wednesday afternoon, over 24 hours after polls opened in towns across the state, the Associated Press finally declared a winner of New Jersey’s 2021 gubernatorial election. Democratic governor, Phil Murphy, defeated Republican challenger, Jack Ciattarelli, in a race that was decided by thin margins: an expected 9 point lead in the polls had evaporated to less than three percentage points on election day, with Murphy eventually garnering 50.9% of the vote against Ciattarelli’s 48.3%.

New Jersey’s unexpectedly close race developed against the backdrop of a similar national theme. Across the country, Republicans polled favorably as uncertainty simmered among the Democrat-controlled federal government. Murphy initially had double-digit leads slowly diminish through the summer, with Ciattarelli campaigning on a platform criticizing the governor’s pandemic response and the state’s infamously high tax rates. Meanwhile, Murphy touted his administration’s accomplishments (among them, the state’s COVID-19 response) while calling out Ciattarelli as “out of touch”. By election day, vote shares followed typical patterns; urban areas surrounding Newark, Trenton, and Camden were solidly in favor of Governor Murphy, while rural counties in the south and northwest were overwhelmingly pro-Ciattarelli. Somerset county leaned slightly left, as Murphy gained around 3,000 votes over Ciattarelli despite the Republican challenger basing his operations in Bridgewater and Somerville.

Despite New Jersey’s status as a solidly “blue” state on the national level, Murphy became the first Democratic governor to be reelected since 1977.