New Jersey Eyes a Return to Blue Roots in Upcoming November Election

Former U.S. Ambassador to Germany Philip Murphy at the Berlin-Schoenefeld Airport in 2010. (Public domain photo by Air Force Staff Sgt. Julius Delos Reyes.)

Since 2008, the number of governorships held by the Democratic Party has decreased by 35.7 percent, with similar losses in state legislatures.

For Democrats, this November’s New Jersey gubernatorial election is the first battle of a much larger effort to rebuild the party at the state level. For Republicans, it is the first of many challenges to their historic domination of state politics across the country.

On June 6, New Jersey Democrats chose Phillip Murphy as their nominee by a large plurality.

Murphy worked at Goldman Sachs from 1983 to 2006, where he served in a variety of management positions around the world, eventually joining Goldman’s Management Committee. Murphy served as U.S. Ambassador to Germany from 2009 to 2013.

In the debates, the Democratic candidates found much common ground, particularly in legalizing marijuana, expanding renewable energy, investing in infrastructure, and criticizing the current term-limited and deeply unpopular governor, Chris Christie. Murphy differed from his opponents in his proposal to create a state-run, public bank.

Murphy’s plan calls for the state to store some of its tax revenues in a public bank, which would loan money to college students, small businesses, and local governments in New Jersey. He criticizes the current system, in which tax revenues are stored in large international financial institutions, based on the claim that the money is rarely, if ever, invested in New Jersey.

Murphy argues that North Dakota’s state-run bank, the Bank of North Dakota, has been successful, popular and corruption-free since its inception in 1919. However, in the debate, Democratic Senator Raymond Lesniak pointed out that “New Jersey ain’t North Dakota,” referencing New Jersey’s history of corruption.

Since 2002, the FBI has indicted more than 60 public officials as part of Operation Bid Rig, an ongoing anti-corruption investigation focused on New Jersey.

Murphy’s Republican opponent, Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno, won her primary by a sizeable plurality as well.

Before getting into politics, Guadagno graduated from the American University Washington College of Law and worked in the United States Organized Crime Strike Force. Later, she served as an assistant United States Attorney for the District of New Jersey in Newark.

Guadagno has called Murphy’s public bank plan “wacky” and claimed “it would put state revenues for critical services at risk.”

Guadagno’s platform proposes a progressive property tax cut that would “cap the school portion of a homeowner’s property tax bill to 5% of their household income.” The platform also includes reforms to the state’s school funding formula intended to make households in wealthier districts contribute more to local education while cutting state aid to such districts.

The election isn’t until November 7, but Murphy has a clear lead by many metrics at this stage of the race, due in part to Guadagno’s connection to the Christie administration.

Murphy has spent $16.6 million more than his opponent, an indication of his ability to raise crucial funds needed to win a modern election.

Polls are scarce this early, but all show a clear lead for Murphy. Most importantly, New Jersey is a blue state: it last voted for a Republican presidential candidate in 1988 and went for Clinton over Trump by 14 points.

However, many voters are still undecided, and as the 2016 presidential election showed, nothing is certain until the ballots are counted.

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