As ballot-counting winds down and Phil Murphy appears to be the official victor of the 2021 New Jersey gubernatorial election, one thing is clear. Trump voters in Ocean County didn’t come out for Ciattarelli as they did for the president in 2020.
Overall, Ocean County had 131,000 fewer voters come out on both sides over 2020 this year. When you look at the split, 64,000 people in Ocean County who voted for Trump in 2020 simply did not even cast a ballot in 2021.
That difference is the current split this year between Murphy and Ciattarelli. Historically, fewer people show up to the polls on election day during non-presidential races and with a mail-in ballot system in 2020, voting was much easier.
Still, a lot was on the line for New Jersey in 2021 and those voters never showed up to the polls.
In Monmouth County, 150,000 fewer voters came out to vote in 2021 over last year, costing Ciattarelli an additional 57,000 votes.
Combined, Ciattarelli got 117,000 fewer votes than Trump did in 2020. With those 2020 Trump votes, Ciattarelli could have easily defeated Murphy.
But he didn’t. Ciattarelli focused his campaign in safe havens and never really had a get-out-the-vote effort as Phil Murphy did. Murphy’s campaign targeted its base and nailed home the narrative that Jack Ciattarelli was the second coming of Donald Trump and that scared New Jersey democrats and progressives.
Phil Murphy told his base that Jack Ciattarelli was a rabid white supremacist who was coming after their healthcare, their reproductive care and that he will send their abuela back to Mexico if he won the election. Murphy used fear of a mini-Trump to rally his base against Jack Ciattarelli.
On the other hand, Jack Ciattarelli’s message was simple throughout the entire campaign.
“I’m Jack Ciattarelli and not Phil Murphy”
It wasn’t enough to inspire a base of Trump voters to show up to vote. Especially for many who knew Murphy’s painting of Ciattarelli as a Trumpster was completely false and fabricated. Ciattarelli was an anti-Trumper and tens of thousands of Republicans just stayed home.
Throughout his campaign, Ciattarelli avoided Trump and Trump campaign issues like they were Chris Christie coughing out COVID-19 droplets during debate prep.
Ciattarelli also lacked support from major Republicans. Few, if any brand name Republicans endorsed his campaign from Trump to Christie to Kim Guadagno. His primary opponents went through the motions and gave a salutary nod to Jack, but never lifted a finger to help him.
Can you blame them? Ciattarelli’s primary campaign against Hirsh Singh and Phil Rizzo was brutal. Ciattarelli’s campaign absolutely savaged both Rizzo and Singh during the primary but dealt with Murphy with white gloves, never hitting the governor where he needed to be hit.
Jack tried to be the nice guy and it didn’t work. Why should it? Everyone who followed the primary campaign knew Jack wasn’t nice. They knew Jack was executed any Republican who got in his way to get the nomination. They also knew that once he got the nomination, he’s an elite member of the Trenton swamp and wouldn’t make too many waves during the general election.
Let’s face it, Ciattarelli is no Glenn Youngkin. Youngkin was fiery, passionate, and inspired Republicans to come out and help him battle the courage of progressivism that was about to overtake the state of Virginia.
Jack told moderates in New Jersey he wasn’t Phil Murphy and added that he was also not Donald Trump. His campaign worked so hard to tell people who he wasn’t instead of telling people who he was and what he’ll do.
The defeat of Jack Ciattarelli will go down as one of the biggest campaign failures in the history of New Jersey. Murphy was prime for picking, but Ciattarelli struggled with brand recognition during the campaign.
Most polls taken showed that the average person in New Jersey had no idea who Jack Ciattarelli was until just hours before Election Day when he was featured on Fox News. By then, it was too late for Jack. Jack played the 2021 election safe, led by a campaign team who wanted to keep him as far away from Trump as possible. To Jack and his campaign team, Trump was seen as toxic. Trump supporters were seen as dangerous baggage. His team routinely banned Trump supporters and conservatives from their social media pages for disagreeing with Jack’s approach to the election.
In the end, he wanted to be Gentleman Jack and that’s why today, Phil Murphy is 60,000 votes ahead. If Cittarelli spent more time courting the conservative movement and what he and others would call ‘far right’, he could have easily defeated Murphy. Instead, he spent his time in no-win places, knocking on doors in urban centers of North Jersey trying to get North Jersey moderates to come out and vote for him.
They all stayed home too. It’s a cycle we’ve seen too many times before in New Jersey that has led to losses. Kim Guadagno. Bob Hugin. The list goes on. Each time, the state GOP hires the same campaign consultants with the same message, “We’re not really that Republican, so vote for us on Tuesday.”
Playing the middle of the road in New Jersey has been an extremely unsuccessful venture for the Republican party in major races. They have lost nearly every congressional seat, the governor’s office twice, and both Senate seats over the past five years. It’s not working…and it’s not going to work in 2022 either.
Like him or hate him, the 2021 election cycle’s red wave was inspired by hard-fought battles against liberalism, progressivism, and socialism, sprinkled in with a little bit of Donald J. Trump. Until Republicans in New Jersey wake up and realize moderates in North Jersey can’t be won over, they’re going to keep running into the same brick wall over and over again.