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(Bloomberg) — New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy’s first year in office has come to resemble his first race for U.S. Senate, in which he relied on personal resources and leverage in the Democratic Party establishment to secure his nomination.
The former Goldman Sachs Group Inc. executive should have won easily over fellow Democrat Jim Johnson in the May 2017 primary and easily dispatched Republican Assemblyman Jack Ciattarelli in the November 2018 election. He should have coasted. Instead, Mr. Murphy’s missteps — at least five since last month alone — have sparked a backlash that threatens to give Mr. Ciattarelli a shot at winning his first statewide office and prolonging the dearth of Democratic success in New Jersey for almost half a century.
“He won by 67 points last year,” said David Redlawsk, director of the Rutgers-Eagleton Poll. “Now he’s down around 30 points, which is remarkable for him.”
Turnout has held steady in June and July even as Mr. Murphy and Mr. Ciattarelli have been engaged in increasingly ugly televised debates. In June, the governor launched into a crusade against Gov. Chris Christie’s $10.10 minimum wage plan, decrying Mr. Christie as “one of the worst governors in the country” and demanding Mr. Christie end his final days in office “to give my successor, who I just endorsed for governor, a chance to succeed.”
Mr. Christie responded by airing an ad that criticized Mr. Murphy, branding him “the new candidate of average people,” according to a filing with the New Jersey State Election Law Enforcement Commission. (Mr. Murphy won his primary after Christie failed to round up enough votes to avoid a runoff.)
This scorched-earth style of politics marks a contrast with Mr. Christie’s six-year tenure as New Jersey’s governor, which was marked by bipartisan cooperation over several issues, but also by stalemates over spending. Mr. Murphy has sought to resolve those issues through a Democratic-controlled legislature, which helped paved the way for a new, $750 million tax-funded cancer center at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital and a new, $350 million court complex in Newark.
But after campaigning on a pledge to put a price on greenhouse gas emissions and to cap generous pension benefits for public workers, Mr. Murphy is now making noise about a tax increase to make up for his earlier stands. His predecessor, Mr. Christie, joined Republicans in 2011 and 2011 on a bid to raise income taxes for the top earners, but also repealed it in 2011.
“Even though the governor has been pretty good about sticking to the script in terms of who he’s running against and not antagonizing his own base,” Mr. Redlawsk said, “there’s some cannibalism here, and as we know, cannibalism can be nasty.”
And Mr. Murphy is getting less support from Democrats in government than expected. One of his top campaign promises was to restore the $15 per hour minimum wage for public workers, a plan Mr. Ciattarelli has decried. A spokesman for Mr. Ciattarelli did not respond to a request for comment.
Mr. Murphy is also in for what could be a nasty fight over gay marriage — a long-running civil rights issue that saw the federal government rule in favor of a new wave of gay marriage in 2016. Mr. Murphy has said his public support for gay marriage is a holdover from his time at Goldman Sachs, but Mr. Ciattarelli has said his votes were in support of overturning a New Jersey ban and that he supports the federal government’s 2016 ruling.
The state is poised to make history this week. On Thursday, August 16, Trenton will become the second state in the country to legalize recreational use of marijuana, and on Tuesday, August 21, the state Supreme Court is set to hear the governor’s appeal of lower court rulings upholding New Jersey’s same-sex marriage ban.
Read the full story at Bloomberg