2017 Gubernatorial Primaries Less Than a Month Away

May 10, 2017

The 2017 New Jersey race for governor has seemingly snuck up on people, immersed as they have been in the 2016 presidential campaign and its resulting fallout. But the fact is that there will be a gubernatorial vote on Nov. 7. And, more immediately, there will be Republican and Democratic primary elections on June 6, less than a month away.

Do you know who the candidates are? Be truthful. Perhaps you can name a few, but did you know there are officially six Democrats and five Republicans running for the office in the primaries? Meanwhile there are three third party and independent candidates.

Gov. Chris Christie, a two-term governor, can’t run for reelection due to term limits, so the 2017 election is wide open, without an incumbent.

Well, sort of wide open. Polls indicate a strong favorite on both the GOP and Democratic sides thanks to a basic rule of politics, name recognition. Meanwhile, another political necessity – money – has basically reduced the major party fields to two Republicans and four Democrats.

This is Ocean County, which has been dominated by the GOP since the days of Lincoln. So let’s look at the Republicans first.

The official Republican candidates – in other words, those who filed a petition with at least the names of 1,000 registered voters by April 3 – are Lt. Gov. and Secretary of State Kim Guadagno; Assemblyman Jack Ciattarelli; Nutley Commissioner of Public Affairs Steven Rogers; Joseph Rudy Rullo, a businessman and U.S. Senate candidate in 2012; and Hirsh Singh, an engineer and businessman.

However, only Guadagno and Ciattarelli qualified to appear in the two GOP primary debates scheduled for this spring, a May 9 affair at Stockton University (too late for this edition of The SandPaper) and another set for May 18 at the NJTV studios in Newark. They had raised the $430,000 the New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission deemed necessary to be included in the debates while the others didn’t. (It must be noted Singh has claimed he raised twice as much but failed to submit an application to the commission by an April 3 deadline).

Meanwhile, the six official Democratic candidates are Phil Murphy, a former ambassador to Germany and former Goldman Sachs executive; Mark Zinna, the Tenafly Borough Council president; activist and former firefighter Bill Brennan; Jim Johnson, a former U.S. under secretary of the Treasury for enforcement; Raymond Lesniak, a state senator and former chairman of the New Jersey Democratic State Committee; and John Wisniewski, a state assemblyman who also had served as the chairman of the NJDSC.

Four – Murphy, Johnson, Lesniak and Wisniewski – qualified for the Stockton debate and for an NJTV debate set for Thursday evening.

The Stockton debate was actually crafted to be two debates, with the GOP version set to start at 6:30 p.m. while the Democrats would follow at 8 p.m.

Guadagno and Murphy led their respective fields going into the debates, thanks, almost assuredly, to their aforementioned name recognition. Guadagno, after all, has been the state’s lieutenant governor since 2010; Murphy has been running television ads since becoming the first announced candidate in May 2016.

A Quinnipiac University poll conducted from April 26 through May 1 had Guadagno with 23 percent of the Republican vote, followed by Ciattarelli with 12 percent, Rogers with 5 and Rullo with 3. Fifty-one percent of the 331 Republican voters sampled were undecided.

Quinnipiac polled 519 Democratic voters over that same time period, and Murphy was far ahead of the field with 26 percent as compared to Johnson’s 7, Wisniewski’s 5, Lesniak’s 4, Brennan’s 3 and Zinna’s 1. Fifty-two percent of Democratic voters said they were undecided.

The deadline for voter registration for the primary elections is May 16.

— Rick Mellerup


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