Gov. Phil Murphy speaks in Asbury Park on Nov. 3 as election results show a dead heat between him and GOP challenger Jack Ciattarelli. (Daniella Heminghaus for New Jersey Monitor)
Gov. Phil Murphy took a victory lap Wednesday night after late-counted ballots that gave him a slim lead over GOP challenger Jack Ciattarelli led the Associated Press to project Murphy as the race’s winner.
Murphy addressed supporters in Asbury Park, the same Jersey Shore city he had planned to give a victory speech Tuesday night after the polls closed. That speech was scrapped when Ciattarelli’s unexpected strength gave the Republican an initial lead.
“We just had the most New Jersey experience. I was on my way some place, and it took us longer to get there than we planned,” Murphy said Wednesday. “As a matter of fact, some might say it took 44 years to get here.”
The victory would make Murphy the first Democratic governor to win re-election since Gov. Brendan Byrne secured a second term in 1977.
Murphy and his running mate, Lt. Gov. Sheila Oliver, led Ciattarelli and former state Sen. Diane Allen by 25,566 votes Wednesday evening, the Democrats’ margin built on late-counted mail-in ballots. The incumbent’s lead is expected to grow in the coming days as counties add additional late-arriving mail ballots to their tallies.
The Massachusetts native seemed to acknowledge that voters’ support for him was softer than he expected.
“If you want to be governor of all of New Jersey, you have to listen to all of New Jersey. And, New Jersey, I hear you,” he said. “So tonight I renew my promise to you, whether you voted for me or not, to work every single day of the next four years to keep moving us forward.”
At the same time, the governor appeared to promise his administration would continue along a familiar tack in his next term.
“We shall be judged in the long-run not by how we fared in elections but by what we did as an administration,” he said, quoting Byrne. “These are the words that Sheila and I and our team and each and every single one of us have lived every single day the past four years and will live by every day the next four years.”
Ciattarelli’s campaign has insisted the AP’s call was premature, citing uncertainty around the number of outstanding ballots.
It’s not clear how many mail-in ballots remain uncounted statewide. These ballots have broken heavily in Democrats’ favor, and there’s little reason to expect that trend to shift as counting continues into next week.
Election officials will accept mail-in ballots until Nov. 8 as long as they were postmarked by Election Day. Provisional ballots that are expected to be more favorable to Republicans won’t be counted until at least Tuesday.
It’s unclear how many provisionals were cast on Tuesday or during the state’s nine-day early voting period.
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