The race for governor in New Jersey remained too close to call Wednesday, with Gov. Phil Murphy and Republican challenger Jack Ciattarelli neck-and-neck as the state continues to count votes.
A significant amount of votes remained in Camden, Essex and Union counties, and in particular, significant mail and provisional votes left in Essex County. These votes are expected to favor Murphy.
The two waged tense campaigns, and Murphy presented himself as a solid progressive. Ciattarelli tried to paint Murphy as out of touch with the average voter and was critical of his leadership during the COVID-19 epidemic.
The campaigns ended their Election Night parties without either claiming victory. Both struck optimistic tones with their supporters.
"We’ve sent a message to the entire nation. This is what I love about this state: Every single time it's gone too far off track, the people of this state have pushed, pulled and prodded it right back to where it needs to be," Ciattarelli said.
Murphy has been leading in the polls, has a 1-million-voter registration advantage and had more cash in his campaign coffers than Ciattarelli in the final days of the race.
"We’re all sorry that tonight cannot yet be the celebration we wanted it to be," Murphy said. "But when every vote is counted — and every vote will be counted — we hope to have a celebration."
Ciattarelli was up by about 1,000 votes with 88% reporting at about 3:30 a.m. ET.
Ciattarelli, a former accountant and businessman, has been involved in New Jersey state politics for decades and served in the New Jersey General Assembly from 2011 to 2018. He ran for New Jersey governor in 2017 and came in second place in the primary.
Ciattarelli was recently asked at a campaign event about his feelings about mandates and he said there’d be none under his administration — an allusion to mask and vaccination mandates.
He also implicitly criticized critical race theory in schools, saying that "we are not going to teach our children to feel guilty." Critical race theory is a method of thinking of America’s history through the lens of racism that has become a political lightning rod of the Republican Party.
The New Jersey race has even more attention after Republican Glenn Youngkin won in Virginia in a match against Democrat Terry McAuliffe.
Two months ago, McAuliffe held a mid-single-digit lead in a state that Biden won by 10 points over then-President Trump just a year ago, but Youngkin erased the former governor's advantage in the closing stretch of the campaign.
Murphy held a comfortable lead over Ciattarelli leading up to Election Day, according to the most recent polls collected by RealClearPolitics. Murphy's smallest advantage was six points in an Emerson poll conducted between Oct. 15-18. Other polling shows Murphy with an even larger advantage.
Murphy can also become the first Democrat to be reelected governor in the Garden State since 1977.
Fox News' Paul Steinhauser, Jon Brown and The Associated Press contributed to this report.