Democrat Wins New Jersey Governor’s Race as Voters Pan Christie, Trump

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  • Murphy, a former Goldman executive, spent millions on race
  • Republican Guadagno couldn’t escapte voters’ dislike of boss

Democrats Take Governor Races in Virginia, New Jersey

Democratic multimillionaire Phil Murphy defeated Republican Kim Guadagno, Chris Christie’s second-in-command, to become New Jersey’s 56th governor.

The election pitted the personal fortune of Murphy, a 60-year-old retired Goldman Sachs Group Inc. senior director, against the record of Guadagno’s boss, the most unpopular governor in modern New Jersey history.

Guadagno, New Jersey’s first lieutenant governor, never caught in a state that in 2013 had re-elected Christie by 22 percentage points, only to sour on him over the George Washington Bridge scandal. The matter ended in a guilty plea for one aide and federal criminal convictions for two others. Though Christie has insisted he had nothing to do with the plot to exact political revenge with staged traffic jams, polls show most voters didn’t believe him.

“Voters are ready to turn the page and leave the Christie years behind,” Krista Jenkins, director of Fairleigh Dickinson University’s PublicMind poll, said before the election.

Status Quo

News outlets projected Murphy as the winner shortly after polls closed Tuesday night. Murphy thanked supporters via email about 40 minutes later.

“I’m truly honored and humbled to be the next Governor of New Jersey,” he said. “Together we’ll end the failed status quo in Trenton by creating a stronger, fairer economy that works for every New Jersey family.”

Murphy got 55 percent to Guadagno’s 43 percent, with 99 percent of precincts counted, according to the Associated Press.

During the campaign, Murphy pledged to raise $1.3 billion in taxes on corporations and high earners, and legalize marijuana, and apply the revenue to schools, transportation, health care and property-tax relief. Guadagno, 58, planned to find savings in audits and to cap the schools portion of homeowners’ tax bills to 5 percent of income, at a cost to the state of $1.5 billion.

‘Credible Plan’

Guadagno’s campaign introduced her to voters as simply “Kim,” a wife and mother and onetime prosecutor and sheriff, an image overshadowed by Christie’s failed promises to lower the nation’s highest property taxes and turn around a pension system that by 2015 was $135.7 billion short of what’s promised to members, according to a Bloomberg analysis.

With Christie’s approval at 15 percent in the latest Quinnipiac University poll, Guadagno took to telling voters that she wasn’t so closely in step with him. In recent weeks she aligned herself with President Donald Trump on undocumented immigrants, saying that Murphy’s advocating for their legal protection would give haven to violent criminals.

Trump, though, is unpopular in a state where one in five is foreign-born, and which last year gave its 14 electoral votes to Democrat Hillary Clinton.

Murphy had his own specter: Democrat Jon Corzine, the one-term governor who was trounced by Christie in 2009 as voters rejected his handling of the economic recession. Murphy noted the similarities -- both came from humble roots, earned personal fortunes at Goldman, championed tax and social policies favoring the poor and middle class and bankrolled their campaigns -- but insisted that he was his own person, with his own leadership style.

Corzine left office with approval ratings that were more than double those for Christie, according to PublicMind.

Murphy consistently led in independent surveys, most recently by 12 percentage points in a Quinnipiac University poll of 662 likely voters released Nov. 6. He was backed by public-worker unions and the heads of all 21 Democratic county committees, and by Oct. 24 had outspent Guadagno by more than 2-to-1 for the general election, and had $3.5 million cash on hand to his opponent’s $632,000.

Critics, though, faulted his vagueness on budget remedies. Even an editorial endorsement by the Star-Ledger, the state’s largest newspaper, declared him its choice “by default,” citing “profound weaknesses.”

Murphy, a married father of four with a riverside estate in Middletown and residences in Italy and Germany, gave his campaign at least $15 million. He also had support from super political-action committees, including $6 million from the labor union-backed Committee to Build the Economy and more than $2 million from the Democratic Governors Association.

Born to a working-class Boston-area family, he was educated at Harvard University and the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business. At Goldman he headed the firm’s Frankfurt office and later, its Asia operations. A onetime finance chairman of the Democratic National Committee, he was appointed by then-President Barack Obama as U.S. ambassador to Germany from 2009-2013.

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