A confident Jack Ciattarelli likes to say he’s the only New Jersey Republican who can unseat Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy in this November’s election.
Pointing to his impressive fundraising figures, which were released this week by New Jersey officials, Ciattarelli touted in a Fox News interview Thursday that “what it tells me is people like what they see and hear from me and my campaign. I think we made the case that there’s only one Republican that can beat Phil Murphy in November and that’s Jack Ciattarelli.”
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Ciattarelli, a former GOP Assembly member who ran unsuccessfully for the 2017 Republican gubernatorial nomination, is the front-runner this time around, with less than one month to go until New Jersey’s June 8 primary.
According to official numbers, Ciattarelli has hauled in $5.7 million, second only to Murphy. And he’s dramatically outraised the two more conservative candidates who are also vying for the Republican nomination, Hirsh Singh, who unsuccessfully ran for U.S. Senate last year, and Phil Rizzo, a pastor and former real estate developer.
“What’s really pleasing to me is that there’ve been contributions large and small from people in all 21 counties. That’s also a very good indication of our energy and momentum,” Ciattarelli highlighted.
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Ciattarelli came in second in the 2017 GOP primary to then Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno, who lost to Murphy in the general election by double digits.
Calling New Jersey “the largest small state in the union,” Ciattarelli said, “Last time I thought eight months was enough time to get my message out. I learned that it wasn’t. This time around I’ve given myself more than twice the runway to get up and down the state and make a case for a how commonsense conservative approach to governance is what New Jersey really needs, particularly after four years of Phil Murphy.”
While Ciattarelli, a certified public accountant who started a medical publishing company, has been successful in consolidating Republican support across the Garden State, he still faces criticism that he’s not supportive enough of former President Trump, who remains incredibly popular with GOP base voters and retains plenty of influence over most Republican politicians.
“When you’re a gubernatorial candidate, there’s always going to be one type of criticism or another,” he said. “My focus is on Phil Murphy. And here’s one thing I know about all 1.4 million Republicans in New Jersey, none of them want to see Phil Murphy get a second term. It’s my job to get all of us to rally around that very point.”
Asked if he’d seek or accept Trump’s endorsement, he said, “There’s only one endorsement I seek, and that’s the endorsement of the voters of New Jersey. That’s the only one that matters. So that will continue to be my focus.”
Murphy succeeded term-limited GOP Gov. Chris Christie, who unsuccessfully ran for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination. Christie, who left office with extremely low approval ratings in public opinion polling, has not weighed in on the 2021 gubernatorial primary.
When asked if he would embrace help on the campaign trail from Christie if he wins the primary, the candidate answered, “My job is to reestablish the New Jersey Republican brand, which is always focused on a commonsense approach to governance, truly having an impact on the quality of life for its citizens. So again, my focus continues to be voters and it’s their endorsement I seek.”
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Ciattarelli is keeping his focus squarely on Murphy, whose approval rating among Garden Staters remained a healthy 57% in a recent Monmouth University survey. While that’s down from 71% approval last year amid the early stages of the coronavirus pandemic, it’s still a nice number to have if you’re a politician running for reelection.
There was an expected partisan divide over Murphy, with 88% of Democrats, 48% of independents and just 21% of Republicans approving of the job he’s doing as governor.
According to the poll, 48% of voters said the governor should be reelected this November, with 43% saying it’s time for someone new in office.
That number gives Ciattarelli hope, as he predicts “that come November, we’re going to have a new governor here in New Jersey.”
He takes aim at Murphy, saying, “You expect your governor to keep the most vulnerable safe, you expect your governor to minimize the impact of any economic catastrophe, you expect your governor to run a transparent and competent state government. I believe that our governor has failed on all three of those objectives.”
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And he attacks Murphy over the coronavirus pandemic, which hit New Jersey particularly hard.
“I do believe that Phil Murphy’s decisions failed us. We lead the nation in nursing home deaths,” Ciattarelli charged. “I believe this administration has been incompetent. I believe we can do better and when I’m governor we will.”