Republican Jack Ciattarelli conceded defeat Friday in his bid to unseat New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy (D), adding that he didn’t want to delay the lengthy vote count or raise questions about election integrity.
With 98 percent of the expected vote tallied as of Friday morning, Murphy had 1,305,152 votes, or a little over 51 percent, while Ciattarelli had 1,231,204 votes, or slightly over 48 percent.
“I’m running for governor in four years,” Ciattarelli said on Friday.
The Associated Press called the race for Murphy last Wednesday. But Ciattarelli declined to concede for more than a week, with staffers telling reporters that the campaign was trying to determine whether the vote margin would eventually narrow enough that they could seek a recount.
“No one should be declaring victory or conceding the election until every legal vote is counted,” Ciattarelli said in a video statement posted last Thursday evening, when the unofficial vote count put Murphy ahead by about two points.
Ciattarelli’s reluctance to concede had prompted alarm among some Democrats who worried that the Republican might falsely claim, as former president Donald Trump had done a year earlier, that the election was “stolen.”
“The race is over,” Murphy campaign manager Mollie Binotto said in a statement on Monday. “Assemblyman Ciattarelli is mathematically eliminated, and he must accept the results and concede the race. His continuing failure to do so is an assault on the integrity of our elections.”
Even though Murphy was able to win his bid for a second term, the closeness of his race was in some ways more shocking to Democrats than their loss in Virginia’s gubernatorial contest.
Murphy won his first term by 14 points, and President Biden carried the state by 16 points last year. Like other governors, Murphy’s approval ratings surged during the pandemic, and Ciattarelli, a former state assemblyman, had little name recognition.
Ciattarelli used that to his advantage, appealing to voters as “Jersey Jack,” a frustrated CPA and parent who worried that Murphy was wrecking the state. After winning the Republican primary in June, Ciattarelli ran ads reminding voters of nursing home deaths in state facilities and of a former Murphy official who had accused the Democrat’s campaign of covering up her sexual assault.
Murphy portrayed Ciattarelli as a right-winger who would reverse his administration’s policies. Like their counterparts in Virginia, Democrats attacked the GOP nominee over Trump’s attempt to overturn the 2020 election; Ciattarelli had campaigned at a “Stop the Steal” rally. But the Republican gained ground through the summer and ran especially strong in South Jersey, in White working class precincts where Democrats usually won but Trump had performed well.
In his victory speech last week, Murphy pledged to “listen to all of New Jersey.” He also joked that he “just had the most New Jersey experience: I was on my way someplace, and it took us longer to get here than we planned.”
New Jersey has had other close races for governor, though Ciattarelli’s lengthy delay in conceding was unusual. The 1993 and 1997 races for governor were slightly closer, with Democrats conceding defeat within hours of polls closing.
After the polls closed in New Jersey last week, a number of Facebook groups sprung up, sharing conspiracy theories about how Murphy overtook Ciattarelli when mail ballots were counted.
Ciattarelli dismissed those conspiracy theories in his concession speech Friday.
“I hate to lose. … But I’m also someone who believes strongly in our republic and our democratic processes. Enough votes have been counted,” he said.
And in what may perhaps be a preview of his messaging strategy in 2025, Ciattarelli continued to hit Murphy and state Democrats on the issue of taxes, saying that there are some people who think taxation is the answer to all of the state’s woes.
“I prefer to see things happen by fixing our problems,” he said.
Democrats also suffered losses in state legislative races. In one of the most surprising turns of this year’s elections in New Jersey, Republican challenger Edward Durr Jr., a truck driver who had never before held elective office, toppled state Senate President Steve Sweeney (D), who had won easily in 2017.