New Jersey’s gubernatorial election was the second costliest on record – and culminated with the lowest voter turnout, in percentage terms, in state history.

Election results were made official Wednesday. They show Gov.-elect Phil Murphy won by 14.1 percentage points, his 1.2 million votes amounting to 56 percent. At just under 900,000 votes, Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno drew the fewest votes for a Republican nominee since 1989.

Separate campaign-finance reports made public Wednesday show Murphy benefited from three times as much spending as Guadagno in the general election, if spending by outside independent groups is included. Murphy’s campaign spent $14.5 million directly, to $5.6 million for Guadagno.

Having more money doesn’t guarantee a win, said Election Law Enforcement Commission executive director Jeff Brindle, pointing to Chris Christie’s win against Jon Corzine in 2009.

“Thirty million to $11 million but Gov. Christie won,” Brindle said. “So it doesn’t always come down to who spends the most amount of money, but it certainly helps to have that money to be able to run an effective campaign.”

Murphy’s spending amounted to $12.07 per vote, not including what outside groups chipped in. Guadagno spent $6.24 a vote. But points aren’t awarded for frugality – and if they were, the winners would include Libertarian Peter Rorhman, who spent 58 cents a vote, or two other minor candidates who didn’t report any campaign spending.

Dating back to the primary, in which Murphy spent more than $6 million on two nonprofit groups, New Start New Jersey and New Way for New Jersey, just over $79 million was spent this gubernatorial election cycle.

The only one in which more was spent was the $88 million spent in 2005, when Corzine and Doug Forrester plowed millions from their own fortunes into the race. Adjusted for inflation, that race amounts to $111 million in current dollars.

The 2009 race cost slightly more than this year’s, if inflation is considered. Just over $70 million was spent, but that’s equal to more than $80 million today.

This cycle’s $79 million includes $22.5 million from Murphy, nearly $20 million in public matching funds, between the primary and general elections, and a record $24.5 million from outside groups who can raise and spend without adhering to campaign contribution limits.

“We know how much they spent, but we really don’t know who contributed that amount of money,” said Brindle, who said there should be more disclosure required of outside groups.

The Democratic and Republican governors associations each spent $2.4 million on the race, and their donors are public. Other groups who spent money did so to support Murphy, most notably a union-affiliated super PAC that spent around $6.5 million.

Add in what independent groups spent on legislative races and their outlay grows to $48 million. Compare that, Brindle said, with the $12 million combined spent by the state political parties, the 42 county political parties and the four legislative leadership PACs.

“You can see how the influence over campaigns has shifted to these less accountable independent groups,” said Brindle, who would like state law to change to allow the state parties to more directly participate in gubernatorial campaigns.

Numbers certified Wednesday by the Board of State Canvassers showed voter turnout was 38.5 percent, with about 2.2 million of the 5.6 million registered voters participating.

That’s down from 39.6 percent in 2013, which had been the record low turnout for a year when a governor was being elected. The number of voters who turned out was actually close to 21,000 higher than four years ago, but the number of registered voters is up by approximately 210,000.

Results were also made officials for state legislative races.

Democrats won 25 of the 40 Senate seats. Of the six races with a margin of 5,000 votes or less, five were won by Republicans – the closest being the 16th District, where incumbent Christopher “Kip” Bateman defeated Laurie Poppe by 574 votes.

Democrats won 54 of the 80 Assembly seats. The closest race was in the 8th District, where Republicans Joe Howarth and Ryan Peters defeated Democrats Joanne Schwartz and Maryann Merlino – and all four finished with between 28,196 and 28,841 votes.

The elections were the last Senate elections to be held under the current map of legislative districts. There will be one more Assembly race in 2019 before the lines are redrawn after the 2020 census.

A comparison of the three election cycles shows the impact of the two gubernatorial elections. Below is a visualization of the 2011 election, when the Senate topped the ballot. Candidates are arranged according to their percentage of the vote, with those farthest to the right in the closest races. Democrats are in blue, Republicans in red – and there is generally a mix, with slightly more Democrats winning competitive races.

(If you click on the pictures, they should get bigger, making the names more legible.)

2011 senate

In 2013, when Christie romped to re-election, Republican senators benefited – as seen by their shift left in the graphic below. Three Democrats held on with 52 percent of the vote or less, and the nine closest races were won by Democrats.

2013 senate

This year, the results look significantly different. The four closest races were won by Republicans. In fact, of the eight closest races, the only one won by a Democrat was in a district the party flipped in their direction, where Vin Gopal defeated Sen. Jennifer Beck in Monmouth County.

2017 senate

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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

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