In a surprise to no one, Phil Murphy, the Democrat from Middletown and former U.S. Ambassador to Germany, defeated Lieutenant Governor Kim Guadagno by a 13 point margin to become New Jersey’s next governor. Murphy’s election means legislation on increasing the minimum wage and legalizing marijuana could appear on the governor’s desk in the early days of the new administration.
Murphy has a good shot at fulfilling those campaign promises thanks to a statehouse that maintains, and expands, its Democratic majority. The Democrats picked up a seat in the state Senate, and two seats in the state Assembly at the polls last night.
Notably, Vin Gopal, a former Monmouth County Democratic party chairman, defeated Republican state Senator Jennifer Beck for the Senate seat in the 11th District. More than $4 million was spent in total on campaigning in the Monmouth County district, leading to a democratic upset and the end of Beck’s 10-year run in Trenton.
Another costly race was in South Jersey’s 3rd District—the most expensive legislative race in state history, in fact. Incumbent Democratic Senator Steve Sweeney faced a challenge from Republican Fran Grenier, mainly supported by the NJEA. The powerful teachers’ union spent millions to unseat the president of the Senate, who the union accused of underfunding schools. Sweeney won in a landslide, handing him a clear mandate to continue as Senate president.
Despite the coverage placed on the election for governor, there was a record low percentage of registered voters who wound up casting a ballot. A hair more than 35 percent of eligible voters turned out yesterday, in contrast to a record-setting 47 percent of voters in Virginia’s, the only other state that elected a new governor last night.
At the local level, significant results came out of races for mayor of Hoboken and mayor of Atlantic City. Ravi Bhalla, a New Jersey-born Sikh, became the first Sikh mayor of a New Jersey town after defeating five other candidates in the election. Bhalla has served two terms on Hoboken’s city council. In Atlantic City, councilman Frank Gilliam, a Democrat, defeated the incumbent Republican Don Guardian in a tightly contested race, winning by a margin of only one percent.
Voters also approved two separate ballot initiatives yesterday. Question One aimed to improve public libraries in the state through a borrowing program, and Question Two amended the state constitution to ensure that funds paid toward environmental cleanups are not repurposed to other budgetary purposes.
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