NEW BRUNSWICK – Gov. Phil Murphy called the South Jersey senator-elect who pulled off the most shocking political upset in state history “a dangerous guy” in his first comments on the election, the closer-than-expected results of which he said won’t make him change course in his second term.

Murphy, answering questions after announcing an additional $10 million in federal COVID recovery funds toward restaurants, said his election margin – a win by more than 2 percentage points, compared with 14 points in 2017 – indicates that the state should do more for people, not scale things back.

“Thank God we did all the stuff we did because it allowed us to withstand this red wave that swept over a lot of folks, including around the country,” Murphy said. “So, I think had we not had a lot of programs and steps taken for both that stronger and fairer New Jersey that we’re in pursuit of, it might have washed over us.”

“There’s a lot of people out there we still need to touch,” he said. “Quite clearly, there’s a lot of hurt – a lot of people screaming out, basically saying, ‘I need help, and I need government to step in because no one else is stepping in.’ And we get it. We understand that, and we’re committed to broadening – you know, the stronger and fairer that works for everyone, not just some? It’s quite clear we need more people on that everyone list, and I’m committed to that.”

Murphy said he’s stunned that Senate President Steve Sweeney, D-Gloucester, has apparently lost to a Republican challenger with a shoestring budget who’s never held public office, truck driver Edward Durr.

Sweeney spent more than $1 million on his race to less than $10,000 for Durr, but Republicans surged across South Jersey, flipping four Assembly seats and a Senate seat in Burlington County in addition to Durr’s 3.3 percentage point victory, which was powered primarily by his margin in Salem County.

“I’m stunned. This guy who is apparently winning is a dangerous guy,” Murphy said. “… His Twitter feed – I think it’s his Twitter feed or Facebook – the stuff that’s on there is outrageous.”

Durr has deleted his social-media accounts after articles published after his victory noted derogatory comments he made about Muslims and others. Durr apologized for his online comments.

Murphy has occasionally battled with Sweeney, particularly early in his term, and some people have speculated it might be easier for the governor to get priorities through the Legislature without Sweeney as a moderate check. Murphy said he disagrees and called Sweeney outstanding.

“I want to be unequivocal: I do not welcome this in any way, shape or form. Steve has been a great partner, particularly over the past sort of two, two and a half years. But at every step of the way, we’ve gotten a ton done together,” Murphy said.

“(Assembly Speaker) Craig Coughlin, Steve and I have had a really, really good rhythm. I’m very bummed,” Murphy said. “He deserves the space that he needs to count every vote. And I have my fingers crossed, and if it comes out the wrong way, I bemoan it.”

As for his own political direction, Murphy indicated that he saw no reason to change course from being “pragmatic, pro-growth progressives.”

“We didn’t change our stripes in ’17 when we won the primary and then came to the general. We didn’t change between the general and governing. And we’re not going to change now,” Murphy said.

“We clearly need to touch more people. We need to get at more kitchen tables,” he said. “There are too many people – what I take away from this is there’s a lot of hurt out there, which we knew, but it’s a big group of folks who are screaming out for help. And I want to be the administration who gives them that help.”

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Murphy said his agenda includes efforts at fairness such as a higher minimum wage, equal pay for women and funding for Planned Parenthood, but also a focus on a stronger economy.

“I think I’ve proven this: I don’t change my stripes,” he said. “But … I care deeply about the folks out there who are screaming out clearly in protest or for whatever, however you want to describe it that it’s not working for them. And I commit that we will be there not just whether you voted for me but for everybody.”

Michael Symons is State House bureau chief for New Jersey 101.5. Contact him at michael.symons@townsquaremedia.com.

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