New Jersey Frontrunners Keep Leads

By John Celock

The frontrunners in both parties to be New Jersey’s next governor continue to lead with less than two weeks to go before the June primary election.

A Stockton University Poll released Thursday shows that businessman Phil Murphy continues to dominate the Democratic primary, while Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno retains the dominant position in the Republican primary. The two are part of a large field seeking to succeed term-limited Gov. Chris Christie (R).

On the Republican side, the poll shows that Guadagno leads Assemblyman Jack Ciattarelli 37 percent to 18 percent, an expansion of her lead in a poll taken earlier this month. In the earlier poll, Guadagno led Ciattarelli 29 percent to 19 percent.

On the Democratic side, Murphy, a former U.S. ambassador to Germany, holds 34 percent of the vote, down from 37 percent in the earlier poll. Former U.S. Undersecretary of the Treasury Jim Johnson has taken second place with 10 percent, up from six percent in the earlier poll. Assemblyman John Wisniewski is at nine percent, up from eight percent in the previous poll. State Sen. Ray Lesniak is at four percent, down from five percent in the earlier poll.

Murphy has been the Democratic frontrunner since last year when party leaders from around the state endorsed his candidacy, effectively ending the likely candidacies of Jersey City Mayor Steve Fulop and Senate President Steve Sweeney, who were his most competitive challengers. Murphy’s opponents have been critical of his relationship with the state’s party leaders – including the endorsement of all 21 county parties – noting that he donated money to each of the county parties. Murphy has also received criticism for his career at Goldman Sachs, including on the firm’s management committee.

Murphy has fought back at the criticism, saying the county party endorsements came because of party officials approving of his message, while seeking to distance himself from his investment banking past, saying that issues relating to mortgage backed securities at Goldman Sachs occurred after he had left the firm.

Ciattarelli has been critical of Guadagno’s eight years as Christie’s number two, seeking to capitalize on Christie’s status as the least popular governor in New Jersey history. Ciattarelli has also been positioning himself to Guadagno’s right, noting Guadagno’s support for moderate positions.

Guadagno has been seeking to distance herself from Christie, while also promoting her record in eight years as his number two. Guadagno has highlighted her opposition to the gas tax hike Christie signed, while also opposing his $300 million Statehouse renovation. The two-term lieutenant governor has also promoted her record heading economic development activities in the state under Christie.