The New Jersey gubernatorial election was too close to call by the end of Election Day, with Republican candidate Jack Ciattarelli in a virtual tie with incumbent Democrat Phil Murphy.
As of 1 a.m. Wednesday morning, with 80 percent of the vote counted, Ciattarelli held 1,082,101 votes to Murphy's 1,062,790, according to the New York Times. Several counties across New Jersey were still in the process of reporting vote totals.
"Although it wasn't my intention we have sent a message to the entire country," Ciattarelli told a party of supporters late Tuesday night. "So listen, sometime real soon, we're going to do this again…and we will declare a victory. Guys, hang in with me, thank you all so very, very much."
The close race came after polls showed Murphy with double-digit leads in the final weeks of the election. There are over one million more registered Democrats than Republicans in New Jersey, and a Monmouth University poll released last week found that 50 percent of registered voters backed Murphy as opposed to 39 percent for Ciattarelli.
Murphy's approval rating remained positive with 52 percent of respondents to the Monmouth poll approving of the governor's job performance, as opposed to 39 percent who disapproved. The approval rating remained high despite Ciattarelli's attacks on Murphy's handling of the coronavirus pandemic, during which New Jersey has recorded 315 deaths per 100,000 residents from COVID-19, one of the highest rates in the U.S.
No Democratic incumbent governor has won reelection to a second consecutive term in New Jersey in 40 years. Regardless of whether Murphy wins at the final tally, the close results could spell trouble for Democrats going into the 2022 midterms.
Murphy is a former Goldman Sachs executive who was appointed ambassador to Germany by former President Obama, and won his first election in 2017 to become governor of New Jersey. Ciatarelli, who is a trained certified public accountant, started a medical publishing company and served in the New Jersey State Assembly from 2011 to 2018.
Both candidates criss-crossed the state in the final days of the campaign, with the Murphy campaign attempting to tie Ciattarelli to former President Trump and bringing in various high-profile politicians to stump for their candidate, including Obama and Senator Bernie Sanders (I., Vt.).
"I am here because your governor is one of the most progressive, if not the most progressive, governors in America," Sanders said at a rally for Murphy at Rutgers University on Thursday.
Ciattarelli, who defeated primary challengers who portrayed themselves as vocal supporters of former President Trump, has made light of Murphy's connections with the national Democratic Party.
"Who did he bring in to New Jersey? He brought in Jill Biden, Barack Obama, Joe Biden, Kamala Harris, Bernie Sanders," Ciattarelli told rally-goers in his hometown Raritan on Monday night. "The press keeps asking me, 'Jack, he's bringing in all these people, who are you bringing in?' I said, I'm bringing in Jack Ciattarelli!'"
The next day, Ciattarelli told voters, "If you like high property taxes and New Jersey being the worst place in the country to do business, if you like waiting five hours in line at motor vehicles, to get your unemployment check, or go to state government, vote for Phil Murphy. But if you want change, you do that by voting for Jack."
In addition to criticizing Murphy over high taxes and pandemic lockdowns of businesses, Ciattarelli encouraged Republicans to head to the polls.
"Don't let anybody stay home because they think we can't win or because it's rigged," Ciattarelli said last week in remarks reported by CNN. "It's not rigged here in New Jersey. We can win this race."
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