Gov. Phil Murphy in good faith defended his Jersey Guy on Wednesday after Jack Ciattarelli, his new Republican challenger, proclaimed Murphy “not New Jersey,” referring to a photo of the governor awkwardly eating pizza to assert his point of view.
Murphy, a Democrat who grew up in Massachusetts and moved to Garden State in 1998, quoted a quote from a member of another political family closely associated with Bay State as a response.
“I’m going to paraphrase Bobby Kennedy when he was a candidate for the Senate [in New York]: He said if the election was judged by how long a person has lived somewhere, we should elect the oldest person in the state.. I mean, come on. Let’s focus on the things that people care about, ”Murphy said in a telephone interview with POLITICO.
“This is ridiculous. First of all, we bought our house in 1998. And I would like to ask the member if he had any say in where he was born? Probably not. [First Lady Tammy Murphy] and I make the conscious decision to move to New Jersey and raise our four children? Absolutely. Probably the best decision of our life.
Murphy also defended his pizza eating technique.
“I will eat pizza with anyone,” he told POLITICO.
Ciattarelli, a former member of the General Assembly from New Jersey, won the Republican primary on Tuesday to face Murphy in November. In his victory speech, the 59-year-old CPA and former owner of a medical publishing business said his family has been in New Jersey since his grandparents immigrated from Italy a century ago, contrasting with Murphy, a multimillionaire who made his fortune as a Goldman Sachs executive but frequently describes his own upbringing in suburban Boston as “middle class on a good day.”
The Republican nominee focused on more than Jersey identity politics when he took on Murphy. He criticized the governor over the state’s high rate of nursing home deaths during the pandemic, small business closures while restrictions were in place and the state’s still high property taxes.
Ciattarelli has posted detailed policy proposals on its website and featured others in an interview last week with POLITICO. Murphy has so far focused on bragging about his accomplishments during his three and a half years in office, including raising the state’s minimum wage, criminal justice reforms, the legalization of recreational cannabis, a new tax incentive program for businesses and the increase in taxes for millionaires.
Murphy said he plans to work to develop them in a second term.
“There are very few people in this industry who have campaigned in a way and have ruled the way they campaign. I’m proud of it, ”said Murphy. “We will put more meat on the bones. But in the meantime, people shouldn’t be surprised to anticipate that we’ll be continuing on many of the journeys we’ve started. ”
Murphy also faces a challenge of economic recovery from the pandemic, as New Jersey has the seventh highest unemployment rate in the country. But, he said, “I have no doubts that we will make up for it. ”
Ciattarelli won on Tuesday in a four-candidate primary. Two of his opponents, Phil Rizzo and Hirsh Singh, explicitly sought support from former President Donald Trump’s most hard-line supporters and shared nearly half the vote. For his part, Ciattarelli has sought to follow a line of not criticizing Trump but also not insisting on his support.
Murphy telegraphed that Trump – who during his tenure proved to be politically toxic throughout New Jersey and in numerous Congressional elections – will still be a problem in November.
“I didn’t pay attention to [the Republican primary], but every time I paid attention, including looking at MP Ciattarelli’s positions… it was a race to the right. It was a race to be as Trumpy as possible, ”Murphy said. “You get the assembler who comes to a “Stop the Steal” rally … Come on, that’s not who we are in New Jersey, including in the Republican Party.
Ciattarelli faces an uphill battle in his quest to defeat Murphy. Murphy is heading into the general election campaign with a 55% approval rating and a 52% to 26% lead over Ciattarelli, according to polls released this week.