By John Celock
A retired Goldman Sachs banker and the state’s lieutenant governor have established themselves as the frontrunners for their parties’ nominations to be New Jersey’s next governor.
A Quinnipiac University Poll released Wednesday shows that Democrat Phil Murphy easily leads his rivals for the Democratic nomination and Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno has an easy lead in the race for the Republican nomination. The poll also shows Murphy leading Guadagno 47 percent to 25 percent, with 25 percent undecided, in a hypothetical general election matchup. Gov. Chris Christie (R) is term limited.
On the Democratic side Murphy, a former ambassador to Germany, polled 23 percent, leading state Assemblyman John Wisniewski who had six percent, state Sen. Ray Lesniak at four percent, former U.S. Treasury Undersecretary Jim Johnson at four percent and party activist Bill Brennan at two percent.
On the Republican side, Guadagno polled at 28 percent, comedian Joe Piscopo at 18 percent, state Assemblyman Jack Ciattarelli at three percent, Nutley Commissioner Steve Rogers at two percent and businessman Joseph Rullo at one percent.
Candidates on both sides are locked in a battle for endorsements from county party organizations for most of March and April, leading up to the June primary. Murphy is expected to easily grab the formal backing of the 21 county parties following his endorsement by the state’s top Democratic leaders last year. The backing of the party machinery led Jersey City Mayor Steve Fulop and state Senate President Steve Sweeney to drop their planned bids for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination.
Wisniewski and Lesniak have been trying to position themselves to the left of Murphy in the primary matchup, hoping to build upon their long records in the state Legislature. Wisniewski, a former state Democratic Party chairman, is the longtime chairman of the Assembly Transportation Committee, where he investigated the Bridgegate controversy. Lesniak, a former state Democratic Party chairman, has been focusing on his over four decades in the state Legislature in his primary campaign.
On the Republican side, Ciattarelli has been trying to paint himself as the conservative alternative against Guadagno, who has been the state’s first lieutenant governor for the last eight years. Guadagno, a former Monmouth County sheriff, has focused on her record in state economic development matters and her opposition to Christie on a gas tax hike and renovations to the Statehouse.