Murphy, Ciattarelli locked in tight race for governorship

Solange Paizante, from Newark, as results come in at Gov. Phil Murphy’s election night party in Asbury Park. (Daniella Heminghaus for New Jersey Monitor)

The race for governor is too close to call.

Gov. Phil Murphy and former Assemblyman Jack Ciattarelli were locked in a tight race Thursday night, and it’s unclear whether late-reported votes in Democratic counties like Passaic, Somerset, and Mercer will be enough to hand the incumbent a win.

Less than one point separated Murphy and Ciattarelli with roughly 75% of Election Day vote totals reported.

Ciattarelli took an early but narrow lead after accruing a nearly 74,000-vote lead in Ocean County, the state’s staunchest Republican stronghold.

Mail-in ballots tallies in numerous counties were not reported Tuesday night.

The Republican’s reported lead cast a pall on the governor’s election party in Asbury Park, where attendees began to filter out as the Republican edged ahead. Murphy addressed the crowd at about 12:30 a.m.

“We’re all sorry tonight did not get to be the celebration we all wanted it to be but … when every vote is counted, we hope to have a celebration,” Murphy said. “We’re going to wait for every vote to be counted and that’s how democracy works.”

The mood was jubilant at the Marriott in Bridgewater, where Ciattarelli’s supporters gathered.

Around 12:30 a.m., he came out with running mate Diane Allen and his wife, Melinda Castro, to thank supporters and send them home, saying: “We’re winning! We’re winning! … I wish I could go out there and give every one of you a hug and a kiss.”

He said he and his team would watch the vote tabulation closely to make sure “every vote is counted.”

“I love this state. And I realize it’s broken. You know it’s broken. I’m convinced that together we can fix this state,” Ciattarelli said. “Here’s what we’re going to do, sometime real soon, when we can declare unequivocally a victory, we will begin to fix the state of New Jersey and make this state someplace where everyone feels confident they can live, work, retire, start a business, raise a family.”

While Murphy retains a path to victory, his performance will inevitably fall short of public polling that said his margin of victory would range between the high single digits and low teens.

Ciattarelli’s better-than-forecasted performance appears to be driven by voter enthusiasm in staunchly Republican counties and suburban counties that broke for Democrats during Donald Trump’s term as president.

In Morris County, the Republican led Murphy 97,712 to 72,996. President Joe Biden carried the county by a little more than four points in 2020.

Before Murphy spoke in Asbury Park, Lt. Gov. Sheila Oliver urged the thinning crowd of supporters to remain steadfast. Late-reported votes from Democratic counties would bring her and her running mate over the top, she said.

“We know that there are many many votes still waiting to be counted,” she said. “We know that, and in some of our key Democratic strongholds, we have thousands and thousands and thousands of votes to put on the ledger.”

There are likely thousands more votes remaining in blue counties, but Murphy’s leads in such places are thinner than they were in his race against former Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno four years ago.


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Nikita Biryukov
Nikita Biryukov

Nikita Biryukov most recently covered state government and politics for the New Jersey Globe. His tenure there included revelatory stories on marijuana legalization, voting reform and Rep. Jeff Van Drew's decamp to the Republican Party. Earlier, he worked as a freelancer for The Home News Tribune and The Press of Atlantic City.

Dana DiFilippo
Dana DiFilippo

Dana DiFilippo comes to the New Jersey Monitor from WHYY, Philadelphia’s NPR station, and the Philadelphia Daily News, a paper known for exposing corruption and holding public officials accountable. Prior to that, she worked at newspapers in Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, and suburban Philadelphia and has freelanced for various local and national magazines, newspapers and websites. She lives in Central Jersey with her husband, a photojournalist, and their two children.

Sophie Nieto-Munoz
Sophie Nieto-Munoz

Sophie Nieto-Muñoz, a New Jersey native and former Trenton statehouse reporter for, shined a spotlight on the state’s crumbling unemployment system and won several awards for investigative reporting from the New Jersey Press Association. She was a finalist for the Livingston Award for Young Journalists for her report on PetSmart's grooming practices, which was also recognized by the New York Press Club. Sophie speaks Spanish and is proud to connect to the Latinx community through her reporting.