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Tuesday, May 18, 2021

Will New Jersey defy Washington by electing a Democrat governor?

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Democrats will outnumber Republicans in the November midterm elections in New Jersey for the first time since the beginning of the 1960s. And they’re among the most enthusiastic voters in the state, as the role of a Democratic Senate candidate, Phil Murphy, in helping drive them to the polls suggests.

Republicans are expected to keep control of the Senate, where the current GOP senator, Cory Booker, is running for re-election. But Democrats are trying to win the governor’s race to give them control of the state’s top executive’s office.

At the Greenwich town hall last month, Murphy threw a lifeline to the protesters gathered outside, who had been encircling him and shouting at him about President Trump. “Excuse me, excuse me!” Murphy told them. “I have to go into the kitchen and eat a sandwich right now.”

Voters from both parties and as young as 17 years old said they feel part of a new generation that’s tired of the dysfunction and turmoil of Washington and emboldened to fight for its future.

At the same event, the Democratic front-runner in the gubernatorial race, state Sen. Brendan Gill, said he found it reassuring to see the passion of young people at the town hall.

“These young people are all as energized about the fight they see being waged in Washington as we are,” Gill said.

Political experts said Gill, an advocate for immigrant rights, had used his outsider status to make his party less predictable. Murphy’s role, too, as the governor who would be able to restore pride in New Jersey after eight years of Chris Christie’s term as governor, could influence how voters view the candidates.

Democrats have traditionally been perceived as the choice of working-class, older voters and urban working-class, while Republicans have been strong advocates for men and white voters.

But this year, nearly a third of voters surveyed by Quinnipiac University between October 3 and 12 say they are choosing a candidate based on their party affiliation or whether they like a particular party. New Jersey has been dubbed “the epicenter of tribalism in the United States.”

“This is an election where two groups are going to be very interested in ideological choice: the progressive left who are most interested in their politician, and the right-wing Christians, particularly evangelical Christians, who are very interested in their politician,” said Patrick Murray, a pollster with Monmouth University.

Gov. Chris Christie campaigned with President Trump on behalf of the Republican gubernatorial candidate, Kim Guadagno, but their face-off drew less than 1 percent of New Jersey voters, according to a Quinnipiac poll.

“Christie was not going to do that well.” Murray said. “It’s not going to energize New Jersey Republicans, who are already somewhere in the mid-20s in terms of their enthusiasm level and turnout, and even less excited about Donald Trump.”

In the state’s heavily Republican suburbs, polls show GOP candidates running behind Democratic state Sen. Jim Whelan. By contrast, Whelan’s opponent, an architect, won over voters in heavily Democratic north Jersey with his gender and his stance on environmental issues. He avoided mentioning Trump, aside from to point out his lack of experience in elected office.

In addition to the president, candidates are also pointing to the Democrats’ success in New Jersey last year when they ousted two GOP incumbents, Christie and Sen. Bob Menendez.

Menendez is now serving a federal corruption trial.

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