By: Michael Mandarino, Follow South Jersey Managing Editor
TRENTON, N.J. — On Tuesday, Republican voters officially chose Jack Ciattarelli as the GOP nominee to take on Governor Phil Murphy in New Jersey’s 2021 gubernatorial election. Mr. Ciattarelli defeated engineer Hirsh Singh, pastor Phil Rizzo, and former Franklin Township Mayor Brian Levine to earn the nomination and, crucially, the right to challenge Gov. Murphy in his bid to be reelected.
The Associated Press called the race in Mr. Ciattarelli’s favor at 9:47 p.m. on Tuesday. As of 9:54 p.m., he had won 85,390 votes — nearly half of all that were counted at that time. Mr. Rizzo and Mr. Singh, the two candidates most outspoken about their support for former President Donald Trump during their campaigns, are currently in second and third place, respectively, in the race. Nearly three-quarters of the expected vote was recorded at the time of the call.
Mr. Ciattarelli’s focus will now turn towards defeating Gov. Murphy, who ran unopposed as the Democratic nominee for this year’s gubernatorial election. Obviously, there are still days until this November’s election, but an early poll from Rutgers University suggests that Gov. Murphy is a big favorite to be reelected. According to the poll of 1,004 adults conducted by phone from May 21-29, 42% of voters would pick Gov. Murphy as opposed to 31% of people who would definitely vote for his opponent.
“New Jersey has seen some uncompetitive gubernatorial races the past couple of cycles, and this race does not seem to be the exception right now,” Ashley Koning, an assistant research professor and director of Rutgers’ Eagleton Center for Public Interest, said. “Murphy currently has a stronger lock on his base than Ciattarelli and beats him among independents right now by a double-digit lead.”
Throughout his campaign for Governor, Mr. Ciattarelli has made a conscious effort to distance himself from former President Donald Trump, whose influence on GOP politics is still apparently nearly six months after he left the White House. In contrast, Mr. Ciattarelli’s opponents — particularly Hirsh Singh and Phil Rizzo — frequently echoed some of former President Trump’s favorite far-right conspiracy theories and voiced their support for him. Mr. Singh frequently posted photos of himself wearing a “TRUMP WON” hat, further spreading the lie that Joe Biden’s victory in the 2020 Presidential Election is invalid or false. Mr. Rizzo called himself “a MAGA candidate” for Governor and even posted a photo of himself with the former President in Mar-a-Lago.
Instead of focusing on the former President, Mr. Ciattarelli has keyed in on defeating Gov. Murphy. He expressed his confidence in the fact that he’s the only Republican who has a chance of defeating Gov. Murphy in November during an interview with FOX News last month.
“What’s really pleasing to me is that there’ve been contributions large and small from people in all 21 counties. That’s also a very good indication of our energy and momentum,” Mr. Ciattarelli, who earned endorsements from all 21 New Jersey counties’ Republican parties, said on May 14. “Last time, I thought eight months was enough time to get my message out. I learned that it wasn’t. This time around I’ve given myself more than twice the runway to get up and down the state and make a case for a how commonsense conservative approach to governance is what New Jersey really needs, particularly after four years of Phil Murphy.”
The “last time” Mr. Ciattarelli referred to in his FOX News interview was his 2017 gubernatorial bid. He lost out to Kim Guadagno for the GOP nomination to take on Gov. Murphy in that year’s election.
In addition to that failed gubernatorial bid, Mr. Ciattarelli served on the Raritan Borough Council in Somerset County as president for four years in the 1990s. 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.
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