What Happened In The 2021 New Jersey State Elections?

Dominic Sama, Staff Writer

Philip Dunton Murphy was sworn in four years ago as a newcomer to elected office after campaigning mercilessly against the performance and legacy of former Gov. Chris Christie and his administration. However, he’s no stranger to the political arena having been a Goldman Sachs banker for about two decades, spending three years as Finance Chair of the Democratic National Committee, then finally being appointed by former President Barack Obama as the U.S. Ambassador to Germany before moving back to New Jersey with his family and spending $21 million of his own money to run for governor. Some of his promises seemed lofty at first, which included property tax relief for the middle class, protecting women’s health, and keeping every community safe from gun violence and lead poisoning.
Four years later, there are many mixed feelings about New Jersey’s 56th governor, especially when it came to his handling of the COVID-19 Pandemic. Looking back on his first term, the right to have an abortion has been recently codified by the Governor, NJ Transit ticket fares have remained the same for the past three years, and the Newark Lead Crisis has been effectively ended. However, property taxes remain the highest in the nation and remain a hot button political issue in state politics. It was one of the biggest issues in his race for re-election this past November.
From the beginning of the race and all the way through, Murphy held a comfortable lead over his Republican opponent, former State Assemblyman Jack Ciattarelli. Since 1988 and 1989, each time a President of the United States has been elected, a New Jersey Governor of the opposite party gets elected the following year. With the election of President Joe Biden in 2020, Republicans were hoping for a possible surprise win over Gov. Murphy or, if not a win, a horse race to the finish that could send a message to Trenton that New Jersey may have 1 million more registered Democrats than Republicans, but it’s not as blue as one might think.
At the culmination of the election, Jack Ciattarelli hosted a rally in Neptune and spoke to a very excited Monmouth County Republican crowd. “You guys are the fuel in my tank and the wind in my sails,” Ciattarelli told the large gathering of supporters. Before leaving for his final rally in Raritan, he also said “The polls don’t match what I have seen and heard from so many New Jerseyans after bouncing all over the state for 22 months. I am so ready to win tomorrow”
When all was said and done, Murphy only won by three percentage points and grossly underperformed what he accomplished 4 years prior in his 15-point win over former Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno. Ciattarelli flipped cities in Monmouth County like Neptune City, Aberdeen, Sayreville, and Bradley Beach. There was also one town where it turned out to be a 15-point swing compared between 4 years ago and this race, which was the City of Long Branch. Murphy won Long Branch over Guadagno by 21 points while Ciattarelli lost it by just 6. In an interview with NJ Spotlight News, he stated, “We emptied the fuel tank, left everything on the field, and I wouldn’t change a thing about how we approached this thing. Obviously, I would have done something more to work for that 3 percent, but not only am I proud of how close we really were at winning this, but we flipped six Assembly seats and two State Senate seats that no one thought we were going to get. We need to learn how to win up and down the ballot again”
No other place was that proven to more than in Monmouth County. Not only did Ciattarelli blow Murphy out of the water in Murphy’s home county by 20 points, but District 11’s Democratic State Senator Vin Gopal, who was originally expected to easily cruise to a win was narrowly re-elected by just about 2,700 votes over Freehold resident Lori Annetta out of 71,000 votes cast. However, his running mates, Assembly Members Eric Houghtaling and Joann Downey, were ousted by Annetta’s GOP running mates. Political newcomer Marilyn Piperno and Shrewsbury Councilwoman Kim Eulner eked out the win by just a few hundred votes. Monmouth County Republicans also saw big wins in municipal races. Namely, Manasquan, Eatontown, Keyport, Marlboro, Matawan, Interlaken, Neptune City, and Sea Bright all saw council seats that were previously democrat being flipped to Republican. This happened all over the state.
The main national surprise of the night that came out of New Jersey was that an unknown Raymour & Flanigan Truck Driver named Ed Durr defeated the Democratic State Senate President Steve Sweeney in the race to retain his seat in the State Senate down in Gloucester County in South Jersey. Also added to the Republican column was Durr’s two running mates who took out two democratic assemblymen.
To put it quite bluntly, New Jersey Republicans had a fantastic night winning legislative seats and municipalities all over the state. Nevertheless, Gov. Murphy has been re-elected and is the first Democrat to have done so since 1977. Yes, there are smaller majorities in the state legislature, but the Democrats still hold all of the cards. The catch now is that with Republicans having won seats in the legislature, they will have more of a say and will be stronger in either working with Murphy and Democrats or pushing back harder. With Jack Ciattarelli being the new face of the New Jersey Republican Party and having the strength he holds, while already announcing his run for the Governorship again in 2025, let’s see how it all turns out in the 2022 Congressional, the 2023 lower house, and the 2024 presidential election and who will run to defend and continue Murphy’s legacy against Ciattarelli and his newly growing popularity among New Jersey voters.