NEWARK, N.J. — The Democratic and Republican candidates competing to succeed New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie officially put the debates in the rearview mirror Thursday and are zooming toward next month’s primary with increasingly negative attacks.
The June 6 primary, in one of just two statewide races in the country this year, leaves the 11 candidates less than three weeks to rev up an electorate that polls show is mostly undecided. Experts have said the election is likely to have low turnout. In 2005, when there was also no incumbent running, turnout was just 12 percent.
Christie has been twice-elected but cannot seek a third term.
On the Republican side, Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno and Assemblyman Jack Ciattarelli clashed in their second and final debate that aired on NJTV on Thursday in Newark. Democrats Jim Johnson, state Sen. Ray Lesniak, Phil Murphy and Assemblyman John Wisniewski went head to head in a debate last week. Five other Democrats and Republicans who are running didn’t qualify to participate, based on rules set by the state Election Law Enforcement Commission.
A closer look at the race:
IT’S GETTING NEGATIVE
Murphy, a former Obama administration ambassador to Germany and Goldman Sachs executive, is leading the Democratic field and has led against Republicans, polls have shown. His opponents attack him over his Wall Street background and personal wealth that he’s poured into the contest.
Johnson, an attorney and former Clinton administration official, is circulating a timeline of their careers, prominently showing Murphy’s two-decade stint at Goldman Sachs. Johnson argues that Murphy’s career shows he didn’t live up to progressive ideals.
Wisniewski’s campaign says Murphy “bought and paid for” the endorsements he got from county officials. Murphy has responded that his Goldman career is just a “chapter” in the book of his life and that his endorsements were earned, not paid for.
On the Republican side, Guadagno has led in the polls but Ciattarelli closed the gap in a recent survey. Guadagno regularly calls Ciattarelli “high tax Jack” over his proposal that includes redoing the state education funding formula to lower property taxes, but also calls for raising taxes on millionaires.
Ciattarelli has responded that his plan would lower tax burdens overall. Ciattarelli has criticized Guadagno as a “hypocrite” for highlighting his earlier affirmative votes for raising taxes since she has also endorsed Republican lawmakers who voted the same.
WHAT ARE THE DIFFERENCES?
The Democratic candidates overlap significantly on the issues. Democrats have all promised to fully fund the pension and the state’s dormant school-funding formula, which Christie has mostly ignored.
They agree the state should rejoin a regional greenhouse gas initiative aimed at lowering emissions. They support a $15 an hour minimum wage and call for a carbon-free economy by 2050.
The differences are mostly stylistic and personality driven, though policy differences exist. For example, Wisniewski is alone in calling specifically for a state-financed single-payer health system, though all the Democratic candidates agree health care is a universal right.
On the Republican side, more differences have emerged. Guadagno has promised never to raise taxes. Ciatttarelli’s plan calls for raising income taxes on millionaires, while also phasing out the business tax over a decade and reforming education funding to lower property taxes.
Guadagno says she also would rejoin the regional greenhouse gas initiative, while Ciattarelli would not.
CORZINE, CHRISTIE, TRUMP
Three people who are not in the race have overshadowed it. Murphy’s opponents compare him unfavorably to former Democratic Gov. Jon Corzine, who lost re-election to Christie in 2009 and who also used his personal wealth to help win election. He’s also a former Goldman Sachs official.
Christie has about eight months left in office, but the Republicans already are waving goodbye, distancing themselves from the unpopular incumbent.
Democrats also regularly attack Republican President Donald Trump, who lost New Jersey in 2016. Johnson unveiled a “Trump Protection Plan,” aimed at stopping his agenda. Murphy has promised to ignore Trump’s executive orders if he views them as unconstitutional.
Voters go to the polls June 6. Peter Woolley, a Fairleigh Dickinson University political science professor, said he sees no sign that turnout will be higher this year than in previous years.
“Party primaries ask voters to choose among candidates who are little known, or who are inevitable, or who differ little from one another in their policy,” he said.