Murphy takes a narrow lead, but many N.J. races still too close to call

Associated Press calls governor’s race for Murphy over Republican challenger

By: - November 3, 2021 6:12 pm

Gov. Phil Murphy greets supporters in Asbury Park as election results show a dead heat between him and GOP challenger Jack Ciattarelli. (Daniella Heminghaus for New Jersey Monitor)

Gov. Phil Murphy has defeated Jack Ciattarelli in New Jersey’s governor’s race after votes counted Wednesday from heavily Democratic urban centers allowed the incumbent to inch ahead of his Republican challenger, according to the Associated Press.

The incumbent leads the former assemblyman by less than a point, his 1.2 million votes edging out Ciattarelli’s 1.19 million by 19,440 votes. That margin is expected to change in the coming days as more votes are added.

Wednesday’s movement is likely to continue in coming days as election officials count late-arriving mail-in ballots postmarked by Election Day and vote-by-mail ballots not tallied on election night or in the day that followed.

It’s not clear how many mail-in ballots remain uncounted, and thousands — perhaps even tens of thousands — are expected to reach election officials by Nov. 8. A Ciattarelli campaign spokeswoman criticized the A.P. for making the call.

“With the candidates separated by a fraction of a percent out of 2.4 million ballots cast, it’s irresponsible of the media to make this call when the New Jersey Secretary of State doesn’t even know how many ballots are left to be counted,” Stami Williams said on Twitter.

There was little good news for Ciattarelli Wednesday, a Somerset County native who emerged with a razor-thin lead Tuesday night, buoyed by high Election Day turnout among Republicans and a suburban shift back to the GOP.

But many of the remaining votes came from heavily Democratic counties, where results have come in at a crawl since polls closed Tuesday.

The governor saw a boost when Mercer County reported some of its mail-in vote returns, and he’s expected to receive a similar edge when smaller groups of mail ballots in Burlington and Bergen counties are counted.

Gopal takes lead in the 11th

State Sen. Vin Gopal (D-Monmouth) pulled ahead of Republican challenger Lori Annetta Wednesday evening after newly counted vote-by-mail ballots returned overwhelmingly in Democrats’ favor.

The Democrat leads now leads his opponent 33,610-32,558. Of the 2,222 new mail ballots, 1795 went for Gopal, and 427 went for Annetta. The incumbent also gained 113 election-day votes, while Annetta’s got just six.

Assemblywoman Joann Downey (31,621) and Assemblyman Eric Houghtaling (31,407) also narrowed the gap between them and Republican challengers Marilyn Piperno (33,534) and Kim Eulner (33,378).

Roughly 8,000 vote-by mail ballots remain uncounted in Monmouth, though it’s unclear how many of those were cast in the 11th district.

Change in the 16th

Assemblyman Andrew Zwicker (D-Middlesex) took the lead in the race for the 16th Legislative District’s Senate seat after Mercer updated its counts. He now leads former Rep. Michael Pappas 36,853 to 34,694.

The mail-in ballots counted in Mercer Wednesday also made Assemblyman Roy Freiman (D-Somerset) the leader in his race.

Freiman has 36,155 votes, leading Republican challenger Vince Panico, who has 34,903.

Democrat Sadaf Jaffer (34,776) was third in the Assembly contest, trailing Panico by a mere 127 votes. Joseph Lukac, the other GOP candidate, is in last place with 34,273 votes.

Other legislative races

Other competitive races around the state saw little movement Wednesday and remain too close to call.

Republicans in the 2nd District continue to hold a commanding lead. Former Assemblyman Vince Polistina is about 2,500 votes ahead of Assemblyman Vince Mazzeo (D-Atlantic) in the race for Republican former state Sen. Chris Brown’s seat.

Atlantic County has not updated its results today, though it includes all mail-in ballots received by 8 p.m. Tuesday. There are roughly 1,200 provisional ballots cast in Atlantic County, though it’s unclear how many were from the 2nd district. In any case, they won’t be counted until after all late-arriving mail-in ballots have been tallied.

There were also few changes in the 8th District, where state Sen. Dawn Addiego (D-Burlington) trails Assemblywoman Jean Stanfield (R-Burlington) in Addiego’s first race as a Democrat since switching parties in 2019.

Stanfield leads by a little more than 2,500 votes. Burlington is expected to issue a small update to its tallies later Wednesday, though that will include only a handful of machine votes not reported Tuesday. It won’t show the results of the roughly 3,000 mail-in ballots uncounted as of Wednesday morning, and it’s possible ballots arriving after the close of polls could swell that number.

Stanfield running mates Brandon Umba and Michael Torrissi lead Democrat Mark Natale by 3,600 and and 5,000 votes, respectively. With 32,576 votes, Allison Eckel is running in fourth place, about 900 votes behind Natale.

Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-Gloucester), the most powerful legislator in the state, still trails Edward Durr 30,352 to 32,682. Durr, a truck driver who raised next to no money for his campaign, declined to declare victory over the longtime legislative leader.

“The only thing I’m saying right now is I’m very happy with the numbers I’m seeing, but until they’re official, I really don’t want to claim anything because it is still up in the air,” he said.


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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.