RARITAN, N.J. — Republican gubernatorial candidate Jack Ciattarelli conceded to Gov. Phil Murphy on Friday, marking the end of an unexpectedly tight race that’s forced the state’s Democrats to reassess their priorities going into 2022.
But he said he’ll be back in four years.
“I called Gov. Murphy earlier today and congratulated him on his reelection and wished him well on serving the people of New Jersey,” Ciattarelli said from a podium in Raritan, blocks from where his parents owned a restaurant and where he started his political career more than 30 years ago. “There were those who thought I couldn’t win, there were those who told me I wouldn’t win. Fact is, we almost did win.”
Citing the close race, Ciattarelli set aside any speculation around his plans for when Murphy concludes his second term and will be term-limited from running for a third consecutive stint.
“I’ll be running for governor in four years,” he said, responding to a question. “I want the governor to be successful in addressing the issues that are most important to New Jerseyans, but I just have this feeling that there will be a lot of fixing to do come four years from now.”
Ciattarelli’s concession speech caps an almost two week saga during which the Republican insisted he wouldn’t wave a white flag until he’d been statistically eliminated from overtaking Murphy’s lead, which stood at almost 3 percentage points and roughly 74,000 votes, as of early Friday afternoon.
Murphy hammered the Republican over his unwillingness to concede since last week, claiming it was fomenting distrust in the state’s election systems, particularly as the Democratic governor’s lead grew in the week-plus since The Associated Press called the race.
Ciattarelli, for his part, said he was waiting for every vote to be counted to make that call and urged followers to not believe “wild conspiracy theories or online rumors” about New Jersey’s election and to “let the process play out.”
Wading through New Jersey’s vote tallies proved to be a difficult task after polls closed on Nov. 2. Inconsistent reporting of outstanding mail-in ballots, coupled with delayed reporting from precincts throughout the state, made it almost impossible to quickly ascertain the outcome of the governor’s race as well as legislative races in competitive districts.
At one point in the early morning hours of Nov. 3 — shortly after the Murphy campaign directed those at a planned victory celebration in Asbury Park to go home — Ciattarelli held a 42,000 vote lead over the governor with 98 percent of precincts reporting. That total did not include hundreds of thousands of vote-by-mail and provisional ballots, the counting of which reversed that margin in Murphy’s favor.
The Associated Press called the race for Murphy around 6:30 p.m. on Nov. 3 and the governor declared victory at a comparatively subdued party in Asbury Park later that night.
A three-term former member of the state Assembly, Ciattarelli blew past expectations in a race that many thought Murphy would win by 8 to 11 points. He outperformed in Republican strongholds along the Jersey Shore and in the state’s southern counties and chipped away at Murphy’s 2017 margin of victory in Democratic strongholds across Bergen, Essex, Hudson and Passaic counties.
Democrats sustained losses in the Legislature as well, with Republicans flipping Senate President Steve Sweeney’s seat in the 3rd Legislative District along with as many as six Assembly races.
Ciattarelli launched his campaign almost two years ago, positioning himself as a more moderate Republican in a state party that’s been dominated by outsize personalities like former President Donald Trump and former Gov. Chris Christie in recent years.
With former state Sen. Diane Allen as his pick for lieutenant governor, Ciattarelli focused his campaign on issues like high taxes and business closures he attributed to Murphy’s pandemic executive orders.
Ciattarelli’s ads and campaign rhetoric frequently featured Murphy telling an audience that “if you’re a one-issue voter and taxes are your issue … we’re probably not your state.” New Jersey’s property taxes are consistently ranked among the highest in the nation.
Murphy, on the other hand, sought to paint Ciattarelli as a Trump-like extremist; citing his appearance at a “Stop the Steal” rally and highlighting his hands-off stances on masks and Covid-19 vaccines.
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