Former Ambassador Confirms Gubernatorial Campaign

By John Celock

A former ambassador and Goldman Sachs executive has confirmed his long awaited entry into New Jersey’s 2017 Democratic gubernatorial race.

Phil Murphy officially became the first candidate to enter the 2017 gubernatorial race Monday, using a video to confirm what has been suspected since he began touring the state – and hosting town hall meetings – last year. Murphy, who was U.S. ambassador to Germany during President Barack Obama’s first term, enters what is likely to be a crowded and competitive field to succeed term-limited Gov. Chris Christie (R) next year.

“My campaign is not going to be politics as usual. It starts with you, not me,” Murphy said in a video posted on YouTube.

Murphy described his entry into the field, over a year before the Democratic primary, an “unusual step” and said that “New Jersey’s challenges can’t wait.” Murphy’s announcement though confirms what has long been a shadow campaign since he formed an advocacy group last year and hired long time political hands to guide him through the state’s tricky political waters. Murphy – known for his ability to work a room – has feverishly toured the state, speaking at Democratic Party functions and hosting town hall meetings to share his ideas and reach out to activists.

Several of the ideas that Murphy has touted in his town halls were touched upon during his announcement video, including raising the minimum wage, college affordability, women’s health care, reducing gun violence and not having lead poisoning in drinking water.

Murphy touched on his work in the Obama Administration, saying he worked on terrorism and business advocacy in Germany, and noted that he worked with former Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean on DNC issues. Murphy steered clear of his Goldman Sachs background in the video, though he briefly touched on his wealth, but said it led him not to have to owe party bosses in the state.

“I don’t owe the insiders anything,” Murphy said. “I worked hard, got lucky and was able to turn my full attention to giving back.”

Murphy’s business background has led to comparisons to former Gov. Jon Corzine (D), also a Goldman Sachs alum, who has been widely criticized by Democrats since he was ousted by Christie in 2009.

Murphy faces a likely three way match-up next year against Jersey City Mayor Steve Fulop and Senate President Steve Sweeney in the Democratic primary. Sweeney has been positioning himself as the candidate of South Jersey, including his long time alliance with South Jersey Democratic leader George Norcross. Fulop has been working to solidify a North Jersey base, positioning his roots in Hudson County with other counties around the northern part of the state. Sen. Ray Lesniak (D-Elizabeth) and Assemblyman John Wisniewski (D-Sayreville) have also been mentioned as potential gubernatorial contenders.

Sweeney and Fulop have been traveling the state regularly, appearing long from their political bases. The two have been at heads in recent weeks over the future of Atlantic City, which has turned into a shadow war in the state Legislature between the two.

On the Republican side, Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno and Assembly Minority Leader Jon Bramnick have been the most talked about contenders. Guadagno recently formed a statewide advocacy group to advance her name for 2017, teaming with close allies of Christie. Guadagno has – since taking office in 2010 – made outreach to local Republicans statewide a top priority and has been known to attend GOP events in towns around the state. Guadagno – who Christie tapped as secretary of state and his liaison to the business community – has made deep inroads with the state’s business leadership. Bramnick has used his role in leading Assembly Republicans to travel the state and form relationships with local Republican activists.