Ciattarelli concedes in New Jersey governor's race, vows to run again in 2025


RARITAN — Republican gubernatorial candidate Jack Ciattarelli conceded to Gov. Phil Murphy on Friday, marking the end of an unexpectedly tight race that’s forced the state’s Democrats to reassess their priorities going into 2022.

But he said he'll be back in four years.

“I called Gov. Murphy earlier today and congratulated him on his reelection and wished him well on serving the people of New Jersey,” Ciattarelli said from a podium in Raritan, blocks from where his parents owned a restaurant and where he started his political career more than 30 years ago. "There were those who thought I couldn't win, there were those who told me I wouldn't win. Fact is, we almost did win."

Citing the close race, Ciattarelli set aside any speculation around his plans for when Murphy concludes his second term and will be term-limited from running for a third consecutive stint.

"I'll be running for governor in four years," he said, responding to a question. "I want the governor to be successful in addressing the issues that are most important to New Jerseyans, but I just have this feeling that there will be a lot of fixing to do come four years from now."

He acknowledged that coming out and forcefully stating intentions wasn’t typical.

“I'm not really good at campaign choreography,” he said. “And the people of New Jersey don't like B.S.”

Ciattarelli’s concession speech caps an almost two-week saga during which the Republican insisted he wouldn’t wave a white flag until he’d been statistically eliminated from overtaking Murphy’s lead, which stood at almost 3 percentage points and roughly 74,000 votes, as of early Friday afternoon.

Murphy hammered the Republican over his unwillingness to concede since last week, claiming it was fomenting distrust in the state’s election systems, particularly as the Democratic governor’s lead grew in the week-plus since The Associated Press called the race.

Ciattarelli, for his part, said he was waiting for every vote to be counted to make that call and urged followers to not believe “wild conspiracy theories or online rumors” about New Jersey's election and to “let the process play out.”

POLITICO first reported Ciattarelli’s plans to concede on Thursday.

On Friday, Ciattarelli said he believes “strongly in our republic and Democratic processes,” and that it’s clear Murphy won the election. He urged supporters to ignore claims that the election had been stolen, distancing himself from right-wing conspiracy theories that have percolated since President Donald Trump’s widely refuted claim that the 2020 election was rigged for Democrats.

“To those who are disappointed that I'm conceding, to those whose faith in our election system has shaken, to those who are angry that I'm not asking for a recount today. Let me say this: I've worked every day and night for 22 months to become New Jersey's governor,” he said. “If you think I'd be standing here today, conceding, if I thought I won this election, you couldn't be more wrong.”

Wading through New Jersey’s vote tallies proved to be a difficult task after polls closed on Nov. 2. Inconsistent reporting of outstanding mail-in ballots, coupled with delayed reporting from precincts throughout the state, made it almost impossible to quickly ascertain the outcome of the governor’s race as well as legislative races in competitive districts.

At one point in the early morning hours of Nov. 3 — shortly after the Murphy campaign directed those at a planned victory celebration in Asbury Park to go home — Ciattarelli held a 42,000 vote lead over the governor with 98 percent of precincts reporting. That total did not include hundreds of thousands of vote-by-mail and provisional ballots, the counting of which reversed that margin in Murphy’s favor.

The Associated Press called the race for Murphy around 6:30 p.m. on Nov. 3 and the governor declared victory at a comparatively subdued party in Asbury Park later that night.

Ciattarelli blamed the delays and confusion on Murphy’s new in-person early voting law, and said election results need to be “standardized” in order to restore faith in the voting system.

“The new law the governor rushed to enact led to this disjointed and excruciatingly slow vote counting process,” he said. “Sadly, in our current climate, that slow count and constantly changing online numbers give rise to doubt in the system and unfounded conspiracy theories. That isn’t healthy.

A three-term former member of the state Assembly, Ciattarelli blew past expectations in a race that many thought Murphy would win by 8 to 11 points. He outperformed in Republican strongholds along the Jersey Shore and in the state’s southern counties and chipped away at Murphy’s 2017 margin of victory in Democratic strongholds across Bergen, Essex, Hudson and Passaic counties.

Democrats sustained losses in the Legislature as well, with Republicans flipping Senate President Steve Sweeney’s seat in the 3rd Legislative District along with as many as six Assembly races.

Ciattarelli launched his campaign almost two years ago, positioning himself as a more moderate Republican in a state party that’s been dominated by outsize personalities like former President Donald Trump and former Gov. Chris Christie in recent years.

With former state Sen. Diane Allen as his pick for lieutenant governor, Ciattarelli focused his campaign on issues like high taxes and business closures he attributed to Murphy’s pandemic executive orders.

Ciattarelli’s ads and campaign rhetoric frequently featured Murphy telling an audience that “if you’re a one-issue voter and taxes are your issue … we’re probably not your state.” New Jersey’s property taxes are consistently ranked among the highest in the nation.

Murphy, on the other hand, sought to paint Ciattarelli as a Trump-like extremist; citing his appearance at a “Stop the Steal” rally and highlighting his hands-off stances on masks and Covid-19 vaccines.

In a statement, Murphy said Ciattarelli called him earlier in the day to congratulate the governor on his reelection.

“This election was not simply a choice of candidates, but of direction, and the people of New Jersey have chosen to keep moving forward. We know our work of building a stronger and fairer state doesn’t end with this election,” he said. “And we know our path forward won’t be easy as we continue to beat back this pandemic.”

Ciattarelli said he expects his strategy in his next gubernatorial run will largely be the same, although he hopes Murphy will take something away from the closeness of this election.

“Four years from today, we will still have a property tax crisis. We'll still be the worst place in the country to do business. And we'll still have a bloated, inefficient state government,” he said. “I'm fearful that when I announce for governor, we'll be talking about these very same issues and they'll need fixing come four years from now.”

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