New Jersey Voters Don’t Know Governor Frontrunners

By John Celock

Next year’s race for New Jersey governor has been ongoing among insiders for years, but voters are saying that they don’t know enough about the frontrunners.

A Quinnipiac University poll released last week show that 85 percent of voters surveyed said that they do not know enough about Democratic frontrunner Phil Murphy to form an opinion about him and 67 percent have not heard enough about Republican frontrunner Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno (R) to form an opinion about her. Gov. Chris Christie (R) is term-limited next year.

The poll did show good news for Murphy with 44 percent of those surveyed saying they are willing to vote for a generic Democratic candidate for governor next year versus 30 percent who said they’d vote for a generic Republican candidate.

Murphy and Guadagno are the only gubernatorial candidates included in the poll.

The poll results indicate that Murphy’s locking up of support from Democratic Party leaders and early saturation of television advertising has still left him largely unknown. Murphy, a former Goldman Sachs executive and ambassador to Germany, effectively became the Democratic frontrunner in early October after most of New Jersey’s Democratic Party county leaders endorsed his candidacy. Murphy, who started campaigning last year, was able to force Jersey City Mayor Steve Fulop and state Senate President Steve Sweeney to drop their planned bids for the Democratic nominations as he gained insider backing.

Assemblyman John Wisniewski, a former state Democratic Party chairman, has announced his candidacy for the Democratic nomination to challenge Murphy, along with several largely unknown activists. Sen. Ray Lesniak is also considering entering the Democratic race. Murphy’s backing by party leaders gives him a huge advantage in the primary, with many counties willing to award him the “county line” which will give him better ballot placement and party resources in the primary contest.

Murphy started airing television commercials prior to the November presidential election and has continued the ads since.

Guadagno has been the state’s second in command since 2010, winning the job twice on a ticket with Christie. She has largely operated in the shadow of Christie, who has dominated New Jersey politics since becoming governor. Guadagno, a former Monmouth County sheriff and federal prosecutor, also serves as New Jersey secretary of state, where she oversees economic development, elections, tourism and the arts.

While operating in Christie’s shadow, Guadagno has staked out a grassroots following across New Jersey, attending local Republican events across the state and regularly visiting with local leaders to discuss economic development and tourism. Guadagno has also operated as the state’s acting governor over the last several years during Christie’s frequent absences to pursue his national political ambitions.

Guadagno faces a Republican primary challenge from Assemblyman John Citatrelli.