TRENTON, N.J. (CBS/AP) — Voters on Tuesday chose a wealthy former Goldman Sachs executive and Republican Gov. Chris Christie’s top deputy to run to replace the unpopular governor.
Democrat Phil Murphy and Republican Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno won in the first statewide primary election since President Donald Trump took office. They will face off Nov. 7 in one of only two governor’s races this year, along with Virginia, with Democrats hopeful their promised anti-Trump agenda and voter registration advantage will propel them to victory and jump-start a 2018 congressional comeback.
The election comes as Trump administration developments swamp headlines, spurring Murphy to lash out at the Republican president and wedging Guadagno between an unpopular White House and a governor of whom most voters disapprove.
Murphy, a former Obama administration ambassador to Germany who poured more than $20 million into the contest, tied Guadagno to Christie during his victory speech in Newark and reiterated a promise to oppose Trump.
“Four more years of Christie-style politics won’t make New Jersey the state where we draw the line against Donald Trump, but we will,” Murphy said.
Democrats are favored in the general election, in part because of an 800,000-voter registration advantage and because of political headwinds stemming from Christie’s and Trump’s unpopularity.
Christie remained neutral during the campaign but said Tuesday that he voted for Guadagno, his top deputy since they were elected in 2009. He has said he would campaign if asked, but it’s unclear whether his assistance would help or hurt, since about three-quarters of voters disapprove of his job performance.
“I’ve worked with her for eight years, and I believe that she’s the best person in the Republican primary to represent the party in the fall and to retain the governorship,” Christie said.
Murphy won endorsements from the state’s powerful county political machines. His contributions drew harsh attacks from his opponents that he was trying to buy their support, but it gave him the lead position on ballots across the state’s 21 counties Tuesday.
The race to take the New Jersey governor’s office back from a Republican comes as Democrats nationally weigh whether distancing themselves from Wall Street will help them counter Trump and his populist Republican allies.
Murphy withstood attacks from five opponents over his time at Goldman Sachs. They compared him to members of Trump’s administration who also worked there and former Democratic Gov. Jon Corzine, another Goldman Sachs alumnus who, like Murphy, donated to local Democratic parties.
Sharyn Kingston, 25, of Freehold, said she was wary of Murphy’s “Goldman Sachs connections” but voted for him because he’s best suited for the job and can win the election.
“I’m not an Occupy Wall Street type, but I am afraid of big money in politics, and he made it look like he was trying to buy the nomination,” the legal secretary said.
John Parilla, 75, an immigration lawyer from Alpine, voted for Guadagno and said he likes the range of experience she brings to the job. He said he doesn’t see her as a Christie clone but does see similarities between Murphy and Corzine.
Guadagno, who was twice elected on the ticket with the term-limited governor, has gone to great lengths to try to highlight their differences. She defeated Assemblyman Jack Ciattarelli, Nutley Commissioner Steve Rogers, Ocean County landscape business owner and actor Joseph “Rudy” Rullo and Atlantic County engineer Hirsh Singh.
Murphy faced challenges from former Teaneck firefighter Bill Brennan, one-time Clinton administration Treasury official Jim Johnson, state Sen. Ray Lesniak, Assemblyman John Wisniewski and Tenafly Councilman Mark Zinna.
In the race for mayor of Camden, City Council President Frank Moran won the Democratic nomination in a three-way race to succeed Mayor Dana Redd.
Redd announced earlier this year that should would not be seeking reelection
Moran will not face a Republican candidate in the fall.
And in Atlantic City, voters chose who will go up against Republican Mayor Don Guardian. The race has been tight as of 11 p.m. Tuesday. Marty Small leads 45% with votes still being counted.
Voters also picked their parties’ representatives in nearly two dozen competitive Assembly and state Senate primaries on Tuesday.