Winners and Losers: Guadagno vs. Murphy

Who's up and who's down in New Jersey politics.

Kim Guadagno and Phil Murphy. Kevin B. Sanders for Observer

Kim Guadagno and Phil Murphy claimed victory in the gubernatorial primaries, and one lesson from both candidates is that persistence pays off. Guadagno waited patiently for her turn throughout the ups and downs of the Chris Christie administration and got enough of the Republican Party to rally around her in the end. Murphy laid the groundwork for Tuesday’s victory through several years of planning, tactical hires and the liberal use of his hefty checking account, and appeared to bide his time. Joe Biden suggested Murphy sat out the 2013 governor’s race despite his personal plea.

Neither Guadagno nor Murphy cracked 50 percent in their respective primaries, which means they’ll have to shore up their bases at the same time they’re reaching for the votes in the middle.

Democrats are favored to win in November — and the early turnout numbers show their voters are more energized than the GOP’s — but these races do turn on the candidates’ own strengths and weaknesses, which gives Guadagno an opportunity to overcome the odds.


Murphy hired two of the top Democratic operatives in New Jersey. And they ran circles around the out-of-staters on the rival teams for Jim Johnson and John Wisniewski. For all the talk about Bernie Sanders and the mood of the nation and money in politics, the cold reality is that elections are about winning the most votes. New Jersey’s Democratic Party remains an outlier in the national landscape, driven by county bosses and local machines. As Sun Tzu wrote in the Art of War, “The natural formation of the country is the soldier’s best ally; but a power of estimating the adversary, of controlling the forces of victory, and of shrewdly calculating difficulties, dangers and distances, constitutes the test of a great general.”

Corrado, the Passaic County clerk, won an unusually caustic GOP primary for the state Senate nomination in the reliably Republican 40th District, which means she’s the heir-apparent to Kevin O’Toole’s seat once he leaves in January. Smith, the Democratic incumbent state senator in the 17th District, fended off a primary challenger backed by a national progressive group. Thompson, the octogenarian Republican from Middlesex County and incumbent state senator from the 12th District, handily beat back a primary challenge from Art Haney, chairman of the Old Bridge Republicans.

The two Democratic operatives were brought in to help Assemblyman Nicholas Chiaravalloti and his running mate, Assemblywoman Angela McKnight, retain their seats in the face of primary challengers backed by well-funded outside groups. The Jersey City Education Association pulled its endorsement of Chiaravalloti because he was being backed by Better Education for Kids, a pro-charter-school group funded by billionaire David Tepper. Soliman and Swibinski, who both have deep networks in Hudson County politics, in the end helped both candidates win by large margins in the 31st District against challengers Kristen Zadroga-Hart and Christopher Munoz.

Guadagno has endorsed the Warren County Republican chairman to be the next leader of the state GOP, Politico reported. He’ll have his work cut out for him.

The Republican candidate was endorsed last Friday night by the New Jersey Education Association, benefiting from one of those “the enemy of my enemy” turns in New Jersey politics. The NJEA hates Steve Sweeney that much.


DiGaetano, the chairman of the Bergen County Republicans and a former state assemblyman, decided he wanted O’Toole’s Senate seat for himself. Traier, the chairman of the Passaic County Republicans, went along with that plan. As Alfred Doblin of The Record wrote, that put them on the losing side of two equations. Corrado won the Republican primary in the 40th District, and Sen. Gerry Cardinale won in the 39th.

We hesitate to kick them while they’re down. But we have to point out that because they both got 22 percent of the vote on Tuesday, neither Democrat rose above the other to become a credible power center in Murphy’s shadow. The same forces that dominated Tuesday’s Democratic primary — party bosses and county politics — will have a big say in future statewide races. So will the next governor. And Johnson and Wisniewski seemed to burn a lot of bridges with their rage-against-the-machine campaigns. They had an important message to share, but, again, elections are about winning the most votes.

Atlantic City is still a financial mess, and this agency is handing out huge pay raises, according to Route 40.

His 100-day deadline for a revamped school funding formula came and went this week. His plans to raid Horizon’s reserves and end newspapers’ monopoly on legal notices are getting no traction in the Legislature. He was a piƱata for both parties during the primaries, and did not show up to Guadagno’s victory night party. Tough days. On the other hand, President Trump will nominate Christie’s personal attorney during Bridgegate, Christopher Wray, for the directorship of the FBI.

Winners and Losers: Guadagno vs. Murphy