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Democratic Incumbent Governor Murphy Squeezes Out Win in New Jersey

Polling had suggested that Phil Murphy would win by a much wider margin.

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy speaks during an election night event at Grand Arcade at the Pavilion on November 2, 2021, in Asbury Park, New Jersey.

New Jersey incumbent Gov. Phil Murphy (D) has seemingly won reelection to his post, narrowly defeating his Republican challenger Jack Ciattarelli in a race that wasn’t decided until mid-Wednesday morning.

As of 1:00 p.m. Eastern Time, Murphy had collected 1,199,614 votes, or 49.94 percent of the total votes counted. Ciattarelli received 1,184,723 votes, which is about 49.32 percent.

Only 89 percent of the votes had been reported as of 1:00 p.m. However, all of the counties that Ciattarelli was leading in had reported 98 percent or more of their votes by that time. While most of the counties Murphy was winning had similar reporting numbers, Camden County, considered a Democratic stronghold, had only reported 88 percent of its votes.

Since most of the remaining votes were likely to go to Murphy rather than Ciattarelli, political pundits announced on Wednesday that Murphy was the winner, including the Cook Political Report’s Dave Wasserman.

“I’ve seen enough: Gov. Phil Murphy (D) defeats Jack Ciattarelli (R) in the New Jersey governor’s race,” Wasserman wrote on Twitter at 10:23 a.m.

Turnout for the election was lower than it had been for the presidential race in the state last year, with around 2.4 million residents casting a ballot. In 2020, more than 4.5 million votes were counted — but turnout was still higher than the last gubernatorial election in 2017, when just over 2 million ballots were cast.

Though Murphy’s narrow win may be contested, the state won’t do so on its own. Because New Jersey does not have automatic recounts for close races, recounts come at the expense of whoever makes a request for one. That means if Ciattarelli wants to contest the outcome, he’ll have to pay for it out of his campaign coffers.

Along with the results of other races across the country, Murphy’s narrow win is being viewed as a warning sign for Democrats ahead of the 2022 midterm races next year, with many blaming party infighting in Washington, D.C., for Republicans faring well in New Jersey and Virginia.

“In the war between Democratic progressives and Democratic moderates, the Republicans won,” said former New York Democratic congressman Steve Israel.

If the numbers hold true, Murphy’s win will be the first time an incumbent Democratic governor has won reelection in New Jersey since 1977. Murphy is also the first governor from the same party as the president to win the state since 1985.

Democrats are hoping to achieve a similar feat in next year’s midterms. Generally speaking, a president’s party fares poorly and loses seats in the first midterm race of their new administration. Polling currently shows that a plurality of voters prefer Democrats to control Congress rather than Republicans after next year’s races, but only time will tell whether those numbers hold up over the next 12 months.

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