TRENTON, N.J. – Voters on Tuesday chose a wealthy former Goldman Sachs executive and Republican Gov. Chris Christie's top deputy to run to replace the unpopular governor.
Democrat Phil Murphy and Republican Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno won in the first statewide primary election since President Donald Trump took office. They will face off Nov. 7 in one of only two governor's races this year, along with Virginia, with Democrats hopeful their promised anti-Trump agenda and voter registration advantage will propel them to victory and jump-start a 2018 congressional comeback.
The election comes as Trump administration developments swamp headlines, spurring Murphy to lash out at the Republican president and wedging Guadagno between an unpopular White House and a governor of whom most voters disapprove.
Murphy is a former Obama administration ambassador to Germany. He poured more than $20 million into the contest and won endorsements from the state's powerful county political machines. Guadagno has served as Christie's top deputy since they were elected in 2009.
The race to take the New Jersey governor's office back from a Republican comes as Democrats nationally weigh whether distancing themselves from Wall Street will help them counter Trump and his populist Republican allies. Murphy blurs the line between establishment and insurgent just as Democrats reckon with whether their best candidates should come from within or outside the traditional party structure.
Christie remained neutral during the campaign but said Tuesday that he voted for Guadagno. He has earlier said that he would campaign if asked, but it's unclear whether his assistance would help or hurt, since about three-quarters of voters disapprove of his job performance
Murphy withstood attacks from five opponents over his time at Goldman Sachs. They compared him to members of Trump's administration who also worked there and former Democratic Gov. Jon Corzine, another Goldman Sachs alumnus who, like Murphy, donated to local Democratic parties.
Sharyn Kingston, 25, of Freehold, said she was wary of Murphy's "Goldman Sachs connections" but voted for him because he's best suited for the job and can win the election.
"I'm not an Occupy Wall Street type, but I am afraid of big money in politics, and he made it look like he was trying to buy the nomination," the legal secretary said.
John Parilla, 75, an immigration lawyer from Alpine, voted for Guadagno and said he likes the range of experience she brings to the job. He said he doesn't see her as a Christie clone but does see similarities between Murphy and Corzine.
Guadagno, who was twice elected on the ticket with the term-limited governor, has gone to great lengths to try to highlight their differences. Christie, who remained neutral during the campaign, said Tuesday that he voted for Guadagno.
"I've worked with her for eight years, and I believe that she's the best person in the Republican primary to represent the party in the fall and to retain the governorship," Christie said.
Guadagno defeated Assemblyman Jack Ciattarelli, Nutley Commissioner Steve Rogers, Ocean County landscape business owner and actor Joseph "Rudy" Rullo and Atlantic County engineer Hirsh Singh.
Murphy faced challenges from former Teaneck firefighter Bill Brennan, one-time Clinton administration Treasury official Jim Johnson, state Sen. Ray Lesniak, Assemblyman John Wisniewski and Tenafly Councilman Mark Zinna.
Nancy Dhulipala, 49, of Alpine, works for a nonprofit focused on education for children with disabilities. She said that she voted for Murphy and that Trump had an effect on her decision because she hopes to see Democrats take control at the state level to provide a balance to what's going on in Washington. New Jersey's Legislature already is controlled by Democrats.
Dhulipala said she likes Trump's proposal to revamp the nation's air traffic control system but is "a little nervous" about other things.
"I'm just not very excited about how he pulled out of the (international) environmental accord," she said.
Democrats are favored in the general election, in part because of an 800,000-voter registration advantage and because of political headwinds stemming from Christie's and Trump's unpopularity.