New Jersey Races
On November 2, 2021, New Jersey voters will go to the polls to determine if Governor Murphy will be re-elected for a second term and to decide on all 120 seats in the Legislature. Although New Jersey has not re-elected a Democratic governor since 1977,1 the state has moved toward Murphy’s party in recent years. There are more than one million more registered Democrats than Republicans.2
Democrats solidly control the New Jersey Legislature, where they have passed progressive bills central to Murphy’s re-election, such as a new tax on high incomes and the legalization of marijuana for recreational use. Former President Donald Trump, who has endorsed candidates in primaries and special elections where Republicans were favored to win, stayed out of the GOP’s primary in New Jersey.
The only two U.S. states electing Governors this year are New Jersey and Virginia, providing early indicators of the national political environment ahead of the important 2022 midterm elections.
New Jersey Gubernatorial Race
Governor Phil Murphy and Lieutenant Governor Sheila Oliver, unopposed in the primary, will face former State Assemblyman Jack Ciattarelli and former State Senator Diane Allen.
Ciattarelli won a four-way primary race for the Republican nomination in June. He officially named former State Senator Diane Allen as his pick for Lieutenant Governor in early August. Senator Allen served in the Assembly beginning in 1996 before being elected to the State Senate in 1997, where she represented parts of Burlington County until 2017. Professionally, Senator Allen was a news anchor from the 1970s through the 1990s on Philadelphia broadcast TV.3
Ciattarelli served in the New Jersey General Assembly from 2011 to 2018, representing the 16th Legislative District. He finished second in the Republican primary race for governor in 2017, losing to Kim Guadagno, who was Lieutenant Governor under Governor Chris Christie. 4
Ciattarelli has repeatedly criticized Murphy over the last year, saying the Governor’s policies are too left-wing. Ciattarelli has also attacked Murphy’s handling of the pandemic, especially the months-long business shutdowns and mask orders. In addition, Ciattarelli has targeted how COVID-19 spread through nursing homes, where more than 7,900 residents died.5
Governor Murphy’s campaign focused on his accomplishments related to New Jersey’s economy and his handling of the pandemic, while he tried to tie Ciattarelli to Donald Trump and spotlighted his stance against mandating masks and vaccines.6
Governor Murphy has led in the polls over the last several months, and in an August 18, 2021, Monmouth University poll,7 he held a 16-percentage-point advantage (52 percent to 36 percent) over his Republican challenger. That lead narrowed over the last couple of months, with a recent poll completed on October 18, 2021, by Emerson College suggesting Governor Murphy’s lead in the race could be between four and six points.8
The campaign season in New Jersey did not start until after Labor Day, when both candidates presented their platforms regarding voters’ top issues: the pandemic, taxes and the economy. This will do down as the most expensive campaign in the history of New Jersey. Both campaigns and outside groups for Governor Murphy and Jack Ciatterelli have spent almost $46 million in the general election, nearly twice as much as what was spent this time four years ago, according to the New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission.9
New Jersey Legislative Races
All 120 seats in the Legislature are up for re-election. Democrats control both houses, holding 25 of 40 seats in the Senate and 52 of 80 seats in the General Assembly. There are a few legislative districts to watch where both parties will be using the majority of their resources to either flip or protect.
New Jersey Legislative District 2: New Jersey’s 2nd Legislative District, covering most of Atlantic County and anchored by Atlantic City and Egg Harbor Township, is a district accustomed to divided representation.
Since 2017, the district has elected a Republican to the State Senate: first, former Senator Chris Brown and now ex-Assemblyman and State Senator-elect Vince Polistina, who was just chosen to fill the seat following Brown’s recent appointment to Governor Murphy’s administration. During that period, the district elected two Democrats, Assemblymen Vince Mazzeo and John Armato.
“This election year presents a clear opportunity to give one party full control of the district.”
This election year presents a clear opportunity to give one party full control of the district. However, Democrats and Republicans are optimistic that their party can break through and sweep all three seats.
Senator-elect Polistina is running with former Atlantic City Mayor Don Guardian and former Deputy Attorney General Claire Swift, neither of whom have run for district or county office before. However, both have high name recognition in the district.
On the Democratic side, Assemblyman Mazzeo will try to move up and is challenging Senator-elect Polistina, while incumbent Assemblyman John Armato is running alongside Atlantic County Commissioner Caren Fitzpatrick.
New Jersey Legislative District 8: New Jersey’s 8th Legislative District covers parts of Atlantic and Camden counties and most of Burlington County. Republican Assemblywoman and former Burlington County Sheriff Jean Stanfield is looking to unseat Democrat Senator Dawn Addiego, who changed parties in 2019.
Republican Assemblyman Ryan Peters is retiring from the Legislature. With Assemblywoman Jean Stanfield running for the Senate, the Republicans have two new Assembly candidates: Hammonton Councilman Michael Torrissi and Lumberton Township Administrator Brandon Umba.
The Democrats are also running two new faces for the Assembly: Mark Natale, an attorney from Marlton who was unsuccessful in an Assembly bid in 2019, and Allison Eckel, a marketing specialist from Medford.
Virginia Gubernatorial Race
Virginia is the only other state that has a gubernatorial election in 2021. Incumbent Governor Ralph Northam (D) is unable to seek re-election due to term limits prescribed in the state constitution,10 which prohibits governors from serving consecutive terms. Virginia has not elected a Republican statewide since 2009.11
Former Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe (2014 to 2018) captured the Democratic nomination and is facing Republican Glenn Youngkin, a former private-equity executive and first-time candidate.12
Similar to New Jersey, the pandemic will be front and center during this election, with both candidates taking sides regarding mask and vaccine mandates.13 McAuliffe agrees with Governor Northam that state law requires schools to follow guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which calls for students and staff to wear masks inside school buildings, regardless of vaccination status, which was made mandatory by Governor Northam on August 12, 2021.14 Youngkin has pushed back against any effort to require students to wear masks in schools, saying that decision should be left up to parents and school districts.
An October 20, 2021, poll by Monmouth University Polling Institute has the race as a toss up with Youngkin (46%) and McAuliffe (46%) holding identical levels of support among all registered voters. This marks a shift from prior Monmouth polls that indicated that the Democrat held a five point lead (48 percent to 43 percent in September, and 47 percent to 42 percent in August).15 This one will be fun to watch.