Two major developments Thursday reshaped this year’s GOP gubernatorial primary: Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno filed the necessary paperwork to officially join the race and Assemblyman Jack Ciattarelli announced that his own campaign activities will slow down this month while he receives treatment for cancer.
Guadagno was long considered to be eyeing a run for governor, especially after joining a nonprofit ”think tank” last year that many viewed as a precursor to a 2017 campaign. Paperwork filed with the New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission yesterday made her candidacy official.
Around the same time the news broke about Guadagno, reporters had gathered for a news conference in the State House to hear Ciattarelli reveal that he recently had surgery for cancer and is undergoing radiation treatment after being diagnosed with cancer affecting his tonsils and throat. Ciattarelli (R-Somerset) said he’s confident his prognosis is a good one because treatment for oropharyngeal cancer has a 90 percent success rate. His radiation treatments will last through the end of the month.
“I feel very, very good about my candidacy. I feel phenomenal about the care that I’m getting. I feel excited about my prognosis,” Ciattarelli said.
“I’ve always felt as a public official we are held to a higher standard and when it comes to transparency and disclosure we should set the standard,” he said while explaining the decision to disclose his illness publicly yesterday. “Based on where I am today, in the midst of my radiation therapy, I decided to share the news and disclose I’ll be scaling back the gubernatorial campaign a bit until I’m 100 percent Jack Ciattarelli. I will go day by day as I take on the side effects of the radiation.”
Ciattarelli has gotten a big head start on Guadagno, announcing his candidacy in early October. The former Somerset County freeholder and medical-publishing executive has served in the Assembly since 2012. In the early months of his campaign, Ciattarelli stressed the need to change the state school-funding formula and address rising public-employee benefit costs.
He also hasn’t been shy about the areas where he disagrees with Gov. Chris Christie, saying earlier this week at a forum in Trenton before Christie delivered the annual State of the State address that, if elected, he would not be a third term of the Christie’s administration.
A former Monmouth County sheriff, Guadagno was elected on a ticket with Christie in 2009 and then reelected four years later. She’s also served as secretary of the Department of State and spearheaded the administration’s efforts to stimulate economic development and trim bureaucratic red tape throughout her seven years in office.
But it’s unclear right now exactly how Guadagno will handle her close ties to Christie, a once-popular politician who now has some of the worst job-approval ratings ever measured for a New Jersey governor following the Bridgegate scandal and a failed bid for president that included frequent trips out of state.
After mostly standing in the background during Christie’s tenure, Guadagno has recently started to break ranks with the governor, including last year when she opposed a constitutional amendment seeking to dedicate revenue from the recently increased state gas tax entirely to funding transportation projects. Though Christie signed the gas-tax increase and backed the dedication of the new revenue to transportation, Guadagno raised concerns about whether approving the constitutional amendment would effectively open the door to more borrowing in a state that is already one of the nation’s most indebted.
Guadagno was also one of the Republicans who criticized a bill backed by Christie that sought to raise salaries for judges, executive-branch cabinet members, and other political appointees while loosening state ethics rules to allow Christie to profit from a book-publishing deal. The legislation ultimately was pulled from voting agendas in both the Senate and Assembly after it became clear there would not be enough support among lawmakers in either party to pass it.
Guadagno did not comment publicly about her candidacy yesterday and a more formal campaign kickoff is expected early next week.
While Ciattarelli and now Guadagno will be among the candidates vying for the Republican gubernatorial nomination, a primary contest is also underway on the Democratic side. Phil Murphy, a Middletown resident and former U.S. ambassador to Germany, was the first to join a race that is expected to include Sen. Ray Lesniak (D-Union), Assemblyman John Wisniewski (D-Middlesex), former firefighter Bill Brennan of Wayne, and former U.S. Treasury official Jim Johnson of Montclair.
The primary will be held this year on June 6.