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GOP looks for upset in New Jersey governor’s race as Democrats hope to buck history

New Jersey voters will decide Tuesday whether to make Governor Phil Murphy the first incumbent Democrat to be re-elected since 1977.

The Garden State is reliably blue in presidential and U.S. Senate elections, but its off-year state office election gubernatorial cycle led to GOP victories in 1994 and 2009, the years after Democrats took control of the White House.

Murphy is squaring off against former Republican Assemblyman Jack Ciattarelli, a moderate Republican who easily won the party’s nomination in June by defeating opponents more closely aligned with former President Trump. Ciattarelli has been running for governor for nearly two years and has barnstormed the state in the home stretch, holding dozens of retail-style events.

New Jersey has 1 million more registered Democrats than Republicans, giving Murphy a statistical edge. Recent polling from Monmouth University showed Murphy up 11 points among registered voters and a Stockton University poll had the governor up 9 points among likely voters. Phil Murphy, Jack Ciattarelli / Credit: Yana Paskova/Getty Images, Spencer Platt/Getty Images Ciattarelli and his allies insist the race is closer than those polls show and believe there is a strong chance for a major upset on Tuesday. If he pulls off the monumental upset, it could create a template for Republicans in bluer states during the 2022 midterm elections.

Murphy has focused on his first term accomplishments out on the campaign trail. He highlights raising the minimum wage, enacting a tax on wealthy New Jerseyans, expanding paid family leave benefits, increasing funding for public schools and providing more access to pre-k.

"I think back to the day that I put my hand on the Bible four years ago. We had underperformed, we had lagged, we underachieved, we let our people down constantly," Murphy told supporters in Elizabeth on Sunday. "I’m here to tell you those days are over."

For Ciattarelli, the focus has largely been on taxes, especially New Jersey’s high property taxes. Recent polls from Monmouth University and Stockton University showed taxes have taken over as the number one issue for voters.

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