TRENTON, N.J. (AP/CBS) – Republican Gov. Chris Christie’s time atop New Jersey politics enters its final chapter Tuesday as voters go to the polls to elect his successor.
The polls opened at 6 a.m. Tuesday in New Jersey and some people at the community center in Cherry Hill continued their tradition of being an election day early riser.
“Before the crowd gets here, yeah, so I don’t have to stand in line,” said one Cherry Hill resident.
It’s a big race for governor in the Garden State, but it is an off-year election. To those who would rather stay home, these voters say they should get up and go.
“I think it’s our responsibility to make sure our voices are heard in who we select to represent us,” one voter said.
“This is something our forefathers fought for,” said another woman. “And my father fought in the war, World War II, to have this right.”
Democrat Phil Murphy and Republican Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno are the two major party candidates vying to replace the two-term, term-limited incumbent.
Polls are open until 8 p.m. New Jersey and Virginia are the only states electing governors this year.
Murphy has racked up a double-digit lead in polls and cast himself as a check on unpopular Republican President Donald Trump and pinned his campaign on Christie’s low approval ratings . He has linked Guadagno to Christie at nearly every opportunity.
Trump lost New Jersey last year by 14 points and Christie’s image suffered a downgrade after the 2013 George Washington Bridge lane-closing scandal and a failed presidential run that saw him frequently leaving the state to campaign.
That, coupled with New Jersey’s nearly 900,000 Democratic voter registration and a huge cash advantage, has Guadagno running as an underdog in a state that she helped govern as Christie’s deputy for the past eight years.
Guadagno and family members were met by supporters when they arrived on her campaign bus at their polling place in Monmouth Beach. She said she was excited and believed momentum was building.
Christie said he voted for Guadagno, and the election was not about him.
“If Kim wins, it’s not an affirmation of my eight years and if Phil Murphy wins, it’s not a rejection of my eight years,” Christie said.
One voter disagreed. John Holpp, 88, of Hamilton, a suburb next to the state capital Trenton, said that he came to vote because he’s “hoping to get rid of Christie.”
“If I could get rid of Trump I would be even happier. I’ve never seen our state so miserable and I’ve never sent our country so miserable.”
Lisa Kaye, a 60-year-old Democrat from Hamilton, said that she was opposed to Guadagno because she was Christie’s top deputy. She also is unhappy with the job Trump is doing and still smarting from Clinton’s loss.
“I don’t think Hillary was great either but I think we were too complacent,” Kaye said. “All these news (stories) that say (Murphy has) double-digit (poll leads), that doesn’t mean he’s going to get in unless we vote.”
Guadagno’s campaign has focused almost entirely on her promise to lower property taxes, but recently she has steered into a discussion on immigration policy calling for a ban on sanctuary cities.
Murphy, 60, is a wealthy former Goldman Sachs executive who loaned his primary campaign $16 million. He led the firm’s operations in Hong Kong and Germany before President Barack Obama tapped him to serve as the United States’ ambassador to Germany in 2009. He has never held elected office before. Murphy is a resident of Middletown in Monmouth County.
Guadagno, 58, has served as the state’s first lieutenant governor since winning election with Christie in 2009. They were re-elected in 2013. She is a former Monmouth County sheriff and has served as a federal prosecutor in New York. She is a resident of Monmouth Beach, also in Monmouth County.
On the issues, Murphy has promised to establish a public bank of New Jersey and has prioritized school, pension and transportation funding. He says he would legalize and tax marijuana as well as re-institute a Jon Corzine-era millionaires tax to help finance his promises.
Guadagno’s central plan has been a cap on the school portion of property taxes of 5 percent, limited to a $3,000 credit. She promises to pay for it through an audit of state government.
Christie supports Guadagno’s effort, but has not appeared on the trail with her. He has said he would if asked, but had not been requested to stump for her.
Christie has seen his job approval ratings transform, from a high after Superstorm Sandy when he got good grades for handling the fallout of the fatal storm just before Election Day in 2012, to his record-low approval in the year after the presidential contest.
In other New Jersey contests, Senate President Steve Sweeney, the state’s most powerful lawmaker, is trying to hold off challenger Fran Grenier.
The most decisive force in that race could be New Jersey’s teachers union. It launched a multi-million dollar ad campaign to unseat Sweeney for deciding now to put mandatory pension payments on the ballot.
“I’m a teacher, so I support NJEA all the way,” said Judy Cochran of West Deptford. “He broke his promise to us, so now we need to let him know that if you’re going to make a promise you need to keep it.”
However, many people in the 3rd District like Sweeney as a person and enjoy his influence in Trenton.
“Sweeney’s done a very good job,” said Randy Norman of West Deptford. “He’s helped South Jersey quite a bit and I did vote for him, yes.”
(TM and © Copyright 2017 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2017 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)