Gov. Phil Murphy (Office of the Governor photo)

New Jersey Democratic Governor Phil Murphy, made history becoming the state’s first two-term, Democratic governor in 44 years after narrowly defeating Republican challenger Jack Ciattarelli in a statewide election on Tuesday, Nov. 2. 

Results posted by the Associated Press on Wednesday just before 7 p.m. showed Murphy with 50.03%, edging out Ciattarelli who finished at 49.22%. The numbers reflected an estimated 90% of reported votes. 

The battle remained deadlocked early Wednesday with the outcome too close to call but Republicans still had reason to celebrate – besting the Democrats with massive voter turnout in both statewide and local elections. The Republican candidate, Jack Ciattarelli, mounted an unexpectedly strong challenge, and his loss came after a f

Murphy, 64, made up an early deficit over the challenger who once held a 50,000 vote lead on Tuesday night, also overcoming public opposition to his COVID-19 emergency orders and President Biden’s sagging popularity numbers.

But many believe that voters were driven by their concerns over the coronavirus which has killed some 28,000 residents and caused havoc within the state’s public education system which boasts 1.3 million students. 

Ciattarelli hoped to pull out a win based on a platform that included opposition to both vaccine mandates and mandatory masking in schools. He also sought to lay the blame for the state’s economic downturn on Murphy’s lockdown orders. 

The winner could not be determined until Wednesday due to a large number of outstanding mail ballots and provisional ballots. Further, new state laws prohibited election officials from “pre-processsing” ballots – that is, opening, verifying and scanning ballots — until Election Day. The law reversed the policy from the 2020 elections during which officials were allowed to begin processing 10 days before Election Day. 

And while citizens in the Garden State now know that a Democrat will lead them over the next four years, in the only other gubernatorial election in the U.S., voters in the Commonwealth of Virginia gave the nod to businessman and Republican Glenn Youngkin who defeated former Gov. Terry McAuliffe 51% to 49%, respectively. 

As voters in New Jersey awoke on Wednesday, mediocre voter turnout among Democrats, particularly in the state’s urban areas, allowed the challenger to make headway as both candidates found themselves unable to do little more than wait for the final votes to be counted. The lead continued to swing back and forth between the two throughout Tuesday night and into Wednesday afternoon. 

Nonetheless, Ciattarelli, speaking to his supporters from a hotel in Bridgewater as early results poured in on Tuesday night, optimistically claimed, “I’m here to tell you that we’re winning.” 

Murphy apologized for being unable to close out the election on Tuesday night as it had once been presumed he would do. 

“We’re going to wait for every vote to be counted and that’s how our democracy works,” Murphy said in brief remarks to supporters at the Grand Arcade at the Pavilion in Asbury Park. “We’re all sorry that tonight could not yet be the celebration we wanted it to be . . . When every vote is counted, and every vote will be counted, we hope to have a celebration.”

Finally, early Wednesday evening, he was able to celebrate.  

However, even in victory, looking to 2022 and the midterm elections, New Jersey Dems know they must step up their game and improve their strategy if they hope to maintain the four U.S. House seats which they took during Trump’s term in office in 2018.

In other elections of interest to New Jersey’s African-American residents, New York City elected Eric Adams (D) who became the second Black mayor in the city’s history with St. Petersburg, Florida and Pittsburgh, both electing the two city’s first Black mayors in Ken Welch and Ed Gainey, respectively. 

Finally, Boston elected its first Asian American mayor, Michelle Wu. 

One disappointing outcome for many progressives, particularly Blacks, occurred in Minneapolis, the city in which George Floyd was murdered by police, where voters rejected a referendum that would have dismantled the city’s police department, replacing it with a new force guided by a “comprehensive public health” approach to law enforcement. 

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