There were no surprises in Tuesday’s gubernatorial primaries, as Democratic voters chose Phil Murphy and Republicans opted for Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno as this year’s major-party nominees for governor.

For Guadagno to beat Murphy would be a surprise, as the Democrat has a voter-registration surplus, financial edge and advantageous political environment given the unpopularity in the state of President Donald Trump and Gov. Chris Christie.

And so Guadagno took a first step toward trying to stir up that surprise in her victory speech, telling voters she’s committed to her campaign promise to cut property taxes by capping the school portion of homeowners’ tax bills to 5 percent of their household income.

“Tonight, I pledge to you that if we do not in our first term lower property taxes in the state of New Jersey, I will not stand for re-election,” Guadagno said.

Guadagno made that pledge at the end of a speech in which she took a number of shots at Murphy, conceding along the way she’s an underdog in the race.

Murphy told supporters in his victory speech that he’ll deliver the change New Jerseyans are demanding. He extensively criticized Trump and Christie though didn’t attack Guadagno, at least not by name.

“New Jersey cannot afford a governor who has been complicit in the failures that have left New Jersey lagging where we should be leading," Murphy said.

Guadagno mentioned that she’s lieutenant governor but didn’t discuss Christie in her speech. She instead sought at its outset to stake out her independence.

“I’m running for governor based on my values, based on my record, and based on my principles,” Guadagno said.

Political analysts said they expect Murphy to seek to tie Guadagno to Christie, under whom she has served as lieutenant governor since 2010. Monmouth University Polling Institute director Patrick Murray said Christie will be “certainly a huge albatross around Guadagno’s neck.”

Not since 1985 has New Jersey elected a governor from the same party as the sitting president. And after a primary in which she raised just half of what would have yielded her full state matching funds, it’s unclear how well-financed Guadagno will be for the November election.

“It will be very hard for her to raise money considering that there really is not a lot of enthusiasm for her in this race,” Murray said.

Turnout in the Democratic primary was more than double that in the Republican primary. The Democratic turnout approached 500,000, unofficially, its highest level since 1981.

Republican turnout appears to have been the smallest since 1997, when then-Gov. Christie Whitman was nominated for a second term.

Unofficial results show Murphy tallied 48 percent of the vote in a six-candidate race. He starts the general election today at a Newark news conference with Planned Parenthood and other groups advocating for more funding for women’s health programs.

"New Jersey, here's my simple promise to all 9 million of you: I've got your back," he said.

Guadagno got 47 percent in a five-way race. Today she kicks off what she’s calling a “Main Street, Not Wall Street” tour, designed to portray Murphy’s time as an executive at Goldman Sachs – which enabled him to put more than $16 million of his own funding into the primary race – as a liability.

The one-term Democratic governor who preceded Christie, Gov. Jon Corzine, also made his fortune at Goldman Sachs, but both Murray and Seton Hall University political scientist Matthew Hale said one key difference between the Democrats is that Murphy is a natural at retail politicking.

“Anybody who’s ever met Phil Murphy realizes that that’s not a good analogy. He actually likes talking to people. He’s happy to kiss babies and shake hands and go to little Democratic fundraisers,” Hale said. “He excels at the retail politics that are so important in New Jersey.”

Guadagno won two-thirds of New Jersey’s 21 counties in securing the 16-point win. More than half of her unofficial victory margin of roughly 38,000 votes came from Monmouth and Ocean counties.

Assemblyman Jack Ciattarelli won seven counties and had support from 31 percent of Republicans. Engineer Hirsh Singh finished third at 10 percent, followed by businessman Joseph Rullo and Nutley Commissioner Steven Rogers at 6 percent each.

Murphy won in 20 counties – all except Salem County. He got more than half of the vote in the northeastern, urban counties of Essex, Hudson, Passaic and Union – including 65 percent in Hudson County.

Former Treasury Department official Jim Johnson finished second and Assemblyman John Wisniewski third, each at 22 percent. Wisniewski unofficially won Salem County, by just three votes.

Sen. Raymond Lesniak had 5 percent, retired firefighter Bill Brennan received 2 percent, and Teaneck Councilman Mark Zinna finished with 1 percent.

Murphy and Guadagno will be joined on the November ballot by five independent and third-party candidates: Seth Kaper-Dale of the Green Party, Peter Rohrman of the Libertarian Party, independent Matthew Riccardi using the slogan Put NJ 1st, independent Gina Genovese using the slogan Reduce Property Taxes and independent Vincent Ross with the slogan We the People.


New Jersey: Decoded cuts through the cruft and gets to what matters in New Jersey news and politics. Follow on Facebook and Twitter.


Michael Symons is State House bureau chief for New Jersey 101.5 and the editor of New Jersey: Decoded. Follow @NJDecoded on Twitter and Facebook. Contact him at michael.symons@townsquaremedia.com

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