2021 Primary Election: Meet the Four Republican Candidates Running for the Nomination

By: Michael Mandarino, Follow South Jersey Managing Editor

TRENTON, N.J. — Tomorrow is New Jersey’s primary election, and the headline race of the day will be the Republican primary between four men hoping to take on Governor Phil Murphy in November.

Jack Ciattarelli, Hirsh Singh, Phil Rizzo, and Brian Levine will all be on the ballot tomorrow as they hope to win the state’s GOP nomination for Governor. If you’re planning on voting tomorrow, there’s quite a bit of information to know about the candidates.

Jack Ciattarelli

Jack Ciattarelli has long been considered the favorite to win the Republican nomination for Governor and take on Phil Murphy in November’s general election. Mr. Ciattarelli has by far the most political experience of any candidate in the Republican primary.

In the 1990s, Mr. Ciattarelli served on the Raritan Borough Council in Somerset County as president for four years. He also served on the Somerset County Board of Chosen Freeholders from 2007-2011 before he was elected to serve in the New Jersey General Assembly. He represented the state’s 16th legislative district, which consists of a handful of townships in Hunterdon and Somerset counties, before finishing in second in the 2017 Republican primary. Mr. Ciattarelli lost out to Kim Guadagno, who was defeated by Governor Phil Murphy in the race.

According to his campaign’s website, Mr. Ciattarelli has a number key issues he hopes to address as Governor: lowering property taxes in New Jersey, building a stronger economy/upgrading infrastructure, “fixing” New Jersey’s immigration system, and promoting affordable healthcare throughout the state. Mr. Ciattarelli hopes to “end the so-called ‘Sanctuary City/State’ policies” that currently exist in New Jersey and protect New Jerseyans’ second amendment rights.

In 2015, Mr. Ciattarelli said that former President Donald Trump was a “charlatan” unfit to serve as President. Throughout his second gubernatorial campaign, however, Mr. Ciattarelli has made a conscious effort to distance himself from former President Trump, whose influence on the New Jersey GOP race is very similar to that of GOP politics throughout the United States. His focus has instead been on more local issues and earning the right to take on Gov. Murphy in November’s general election.

“If someone wants to be supportive of Donald Trump in the ways they have been, that’s their right,” Ciattarelli said regarding his opponents’ platforms, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer. “My focus is on Phil Murphy.”

Mr. Ciattarelli has earned endorsements from Rep. Jeff Van Drew (R-2) and all 21 New Jersey counties’ Republican parties, among others, throughout his campaign.

Hirsh Singh

Hirsh Singh, an engineer who was born in Atlantic City, has been here before. Mr. Singh has previously run for office in both the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives along with the gubernatorial race.

In 2017, Mr. Singh finished in third behind Kim Guadagno and Jack Ciattarelli in the Republican primary for New Jersey’s gubernatorial election, which was eventually won by Gov. Murphy. In 2018, he finished in second behind Seth Grossman in the Republican primary to represent New Jersey’s second district in the U.S. House of Representatives, an election that was eventually won by Rep. Van Drew. He also finished in second behind Rik Mehta in the 2020 Republican primary for the U.S. Senate, an election that Cory Booker won easily in November.

According to his campaign’s website, Mr. Singh has a host of issues he wants to tackle as Governor of New Jersey: economic growth, legal immigration, defending unborn infants’ right to life, school choice/property taxes, “Big Tech Censorship and the First Amendment,” medical malpractice/tort reform, protecting New Jerseyans’ second amendment rights, drug laws/criminal reform, and improving New Jersey’s infrastructure.

Mr. Singh supports the legalization of marijuana in New Jersey and hopes to establish regulation and taxation of the drug, which was legalized earlier this year. He believes that drugs should be “minimally taxed, if at all” in order to avoid creating a “massive drug black market.” He also believes that New Jersey’s gun laws are too strict, and Mr. Singh also said that he will not allow “Big Tech entities like Facebook, Twitter, and more” to “attack … American values and conservative thought that has been expanded to the digital realm.”

Throughout his campaign, Mr. Singh has been active on Twitter, proudly boasting about his pro-Trump views. He frequently posts photos of himself wearing a “TRUMP WON” hat, further echoing the far-right lie that former President Donald Trump had the 2020 Presidential Election stolen from him by current President Joe Biden. Mr. Singh also refused to take the COVID-19 vaccine or get tested, which led to the postponement of a second debate between himself and Mr. Ciattarelli.

Phil Rizzo

Phil Rizzo is a pastor with no previous political experience, a Morris County resident, and a self-proclaimed “MAGA candidate” for Governor of New Jersey. Mr. Rizzo, who is running a populist campaign similar to that of former President Donald Trump, didn’t raise enough money to qualify for the GOP debate that Ciattarelli and Singh contested in. That hasn’t stopped him from making a healthy amount of noise throughout his campaign process.

According to his campaign’s website, Mr. Rizzo has six key issues he hopes to address as Governor: reopening New Jersey following the COVID-19 pandemic, education reform, cutting government spending/lowering taxes, eliminating certain executive powers, protecting the security of New Jersey’s elections, and stand up for conservative values.

Mr. Rizzo’s policies regarding the reopening of New Jersey are a bit outdated now, as the state is mostly reopen as its vaccination effort continues to progress. Businesses in the state have reopened at full capacity both indoors and outdoors as the state takes a laissez-faire, honor system-based approach regarding vaccinated people wearing masks and socially distancing in public. The state’s indoor mask mandate was lifted last month, and Gov. Murphy has already announced that schools will reopen fully for in-person learning in the fall.

Although he didn’t earn former President Trump’s official endorsement in the race, Mr. Rizzo did tweet a photo with him on May 1. Mr. Rizzo is also active on Twitter, where he frequently repeats cookie-cutter conservative talking points, appeals to fellow religious leaders, and criticizes his competitors in this race.

During his campaign for the Republican nomination, Mr. Rizzo was also at the center of a controversy surrounding his home in Morris County. A report from Politico stated that Mr. Rizzo sold his five-bedroom, 6,700-square foot home to the small baptist church he leads. This move allowed Mr. Rizzo and his family to live in the home, which is located on a six-acre property and valued at $1.6 million, without paying property taxes.

Brian Levine

Brian Levine, the former mayor of Franklin Tonwship, is considered a longshot to win the GOP nomination in this year’s gubernatorial election. Mr. Levine is running for Governor for the second time, but he was forced to drop his bid for the GOP nomination in 2009 when he failed to collect the necessary amount of signatures to challenge then-Governor Jon Corzine for his seat.

Mr. Levine doesn’t have a list of issues he hopes to tackle as Governor on his official campaign website. Like Mr. Rizzo, Mr. Levine failed to raise the necessary amount of money to appear on the debate stage along with Mr. Ciattarelli and Mr. Singh.

Mr. Levine is a Certified Public Accountant who hopes to support small businesses, stabilize taxes in the state, make healthcare affordable, and support those in need as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Unlike his fellow candidates, Mr. Levine isn’t active on Twitter, as his campaign’s official account only has 36 followers.

Correction: An earlier version of this story stated that Jack Ciattarelli won the endorsements of 17 of the 21 New Jersey counties’ Republican parties. This has been updated to reflect Mr. Ciattarelli winning the endorsements of all 21 New Jersey counties’ Republican parties.

Follow South Jersey provides local journalism which highlights our diverse communities; fosters transparency through robust, localized, and vital reporting that holds leaders and institutions accountable; addresses critical information needs; supports people in navigating civic life; and equips people with the information necessary to partake in effective community engagement. If there is a story or event you think we should cover, please send your tips to news@followsouthjersey.com with “NEWS” in the subject line.