Phil Murphy, a former Goldman Sachs executive and ambassador to Germany, was projected to be the next governor of New Jersey on Tuesday night, after promising a sharp break with Gov. Chris Christie and a “steel backbone” in standing up to President Donald Trump. Murphy coasted to victory over Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno, who struggled to distance herself from Christie after eight years in his administration. The race was called within minutes after polls closed.
Murphy started with some formidable advantages in deep-blue New Jersey, including nearly a million more registered Democrats in the state, and an incumbent governor in Christie with a historically low approval rating. Murphy offered relatively little in the way of specific policy proposals, aside from a promise to raise taxes on the wealthy and push for a new state bank, which allowed him to parlay his two decades at Goldman Sachs into something like a public good. But he enjoyed the support of the state’s powerful public-sector unions, who were eager to elect a Democrat after eight years of battling Christie.
Guadagno never hit on a campaign issue that could attract enough Democrats or independents to overcome the GOP disadvantage. She began the campaign with a focus on property taxes, but when that failed to catch on, she pivoted to a hardline attack on Murphy for supposedly being too soft on immigration. She promised to cut off funding for sanctuary cities, and ran a Willie Horton-style ad that accused Murphy of supporting an immigrant gang member who killed four teenagers in Newark. Whether that attack resonated still remains to be seen.
The race returns Democratic control to one of the bluest states in the country, and gives Democrats complete dominion over Trenton. But Murphy—a former finance chair of the Democratic National Committee, with no elected experience—will inherit an underfunded pension system and a fractious Democratic conference that has failed to solve some of the state’s more pressing problems. Those same problems baffled another former Goldman exec-turned-governor, Jon Corzine, who served a single term before he was defeated by Christie in 2009.