By MATT FRIEDMAN POLITICO
Jack Ciattarelli is New Jersey Republicans’ choice to m
SOMERSET, N.J. — New Jersey Republicans looked past Donald Trump Tuesday, nominating a challenger to Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy who once called the former president a “charlatan” and later acknowledged Joe Biden won the 2020 presidential election.
Jack Ciattarelli, a three-term former member of the New Jersey General Assembly who was backed by the state’s GOP establishment, defeated three other Republicans — two of whom centered their campaigns around loyalty to the former president — to win his party’s gubernatorial nomination. The selection of Ciattarelli in heavily Democratic New Jersey bucks a national trend of Republicans supporting candidates linked to the former president.
Trump — instead name checking Abraham Lincoln. “The fact is, I’m an Abraham Lincoln Republican — one who believes in tolerance, mutual respect and the power and beauty of diversity,” he said.
New Jersey is the only state with an incumbent governor on the ballot this year. Murphy, who is seeking a second term, ran unopposed in the Democratic primary.
Ciattarelli is facing long odds in his quest to defeat Murphy, an unabashed progressive whose popularity shot up when the coroanvirus pandemic ravaged the state. According to polls released this week, Murphy heads into the general election campaign with a 55 percent approval rating and a commanding 52 percent to 26 percent lead over Ciattarelli in a state that has about a million more registered Democrats than Republicans.
Still, Ciattarelli remains undeterred about his chances in November. New Jersey hasn’t reelected a Democratic governor since Brendan Byrne in 1977, as residents have shown a willingness to vote for Republicans for state offices while voting Democratic in federal statewide elections.
“In four decades, no incumbent Democratic governor of New Jersey has been reelected. Not Jim Florio, not Jim McGreevey, not Jon Corzine. Guys, the same goes for Phil Murphy. He’s one and done in 21,” Ciattarelli said during his victory speech.