Murphy files largest-ever nominating petition, pledges that he’ll debate
The fields are set for New Jersey’s gubernatorial primary, with political analysts projecting a two-candidate race on the Republican side and an all-but-certain outcome for the Democrats.
Eleven major-party candidates filed to run in the June 6 primary -- the most since 1989.
To underscore his front-runner status, Phil Murphy filed his nominating petition at the Division of Elections with 43,032 signatures – almost triple the previous state record, 14,835 by Gov. Chris Christie four years ago. Just 1,000 valid signatures are needed for candidates for governor.
“I’m always anxious in life. I take nothing for granted. And I don’t take one vote, one signature, one policy idea for granted,” said Murphy, who said “there’s no question that it’s a crazy political environment” but he hasn’t altered his campaign approach because of it.
At least five other Democrats also filed to run, including retired firefighter Bill Brennan, former U.S. Treasury official Jim Johnson, Sen. Raymond Lesniak, Assemblyman John Wisniewski and Tenafly Councilman Mark Zinna.
The state Division of Elections posted its final update of candidate filings at 8 p.m. Monday. Three other Democrats who had filed disclosures declaring their intent to run with the Election Law Enforcement Commission weren't listed as having filed ballot petitions. It wasn't immediately clear if there might be further updates to the list Tuesday.
Murphy, a former Goldman Sachs executive who has loaned his campaign at least $10 million, has received the endorsements of all Democratic Party county committees.
Seton Hall University political science professor Matthew Hale said Murphy will win the nomination unless he were “to do something incredibly stupid or there would have to be some significant scandal.”
“Any time that you have enough signatures that you need a forklift, it means you’re doing pretty well,” Hale said. “That bit of theater is really just sort of indicative of the fact that Phil Murphy has got the support of the party, got the support of the counties. It seems he’s pretty much a lock.”
Montclair State University political scientist Brigid Harrison said most candidates wouldn’t bother but Murphy wants to show he has grassroots support, not just the deep pockets of a multimillionaire.
“In many ways, that kind of overkill if you will is a testament to the notion that there is a little bit of unease within Democratic Party members,” said Harrison, who said it’s “very unlikely” any of the other Democrats will be able to challenge Murphy’s organization and finances.
Murphy told reporters Monday he will “absolutely” participate in the primary debates. He’s not required to debate because he isn’t accepting $2-for-$1 public matching funds, which also frees him from having to follow spending limits.
Johnson has received matching funds, and Wisniewski applied before Monday’s deadline.
On the Republican side, five candidates filed for the primary: Assemblyman Jack Ciattarelli, Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno, Nutley Committeeman Steven Rogers, small businessman Joseph Rullo and engineer Hirsh Singh.
Harrison said that at the outset of the race, most people would have thought Guadagno would have “walked into the nomination rather handily” – but that hasn’t been the case.
“She has had a good amount of difficulty separating herself out from the Christie administration. Of course, that is how she came into statewide name recognition,” Harrison said. “But she really has been to a great extent an outsider within that administration and indeed many would contend there is animosity or no love lost between the two.
“I think in most voters’ minds, she is part and parcel of the Christie administration, which of course is I think vying to be one of the most unpopular gubernatorial administrations ever,” Harrison said.
Ciattarelli has made it an actual race, Hale said. He said Guadagno “is well-known by business groups, but that’s about it,” while Ciattarelli has made an impression in the county conventions.
“He’s sort of been able to ignite some of the county lines and party faithful. I think that makes him dangerous,” Hale said.
Rogers and Rullo have jockeyed for position as the Donald Trump-style candidate in the race. Rullo is even pledging to “drain the swamp” in Trenton. But Harrison doesn’t see them breaking through.
“Most New Jerseyans probably haven’t heard of them, and I think that most Republicans right now are divided between the two frontrunners – the kind of standard-bearer of the party and the upstart. I don’t see a whole lot of traction, even in the most grassroots level, around the real outsiders,” Harrison said.