Both Democrat Phil Murphy and Republican Kim Guadagno were out on the campaign trail yesterday just hours after winning their respective gubernatorial primaries, and the two candidates were already providing indications of how they plan to win over general-election voters by November.
By their early accounts, it looks like a big part of Murphy’s strategy will be to cast Guadagno as essentially a third term of Gov. Chris Christie, the unpopular Republican governor who Guadagno has served alongside as lieutenant governor since early 2010. And for Guadagno, it seems she wants to portray Murphy as a Wall Streeter who would increase taxes and make an already high-cost state like New Jersey even more unaffordable.
Whether New Jersey voters will be more concerned about the tax issue, or the possibility of a continuation of Christie’s tumultuous tenure, remains to be seen.
Murphy, a newcomer to elected office, easily won Tuesday’s Democratic primary election, thanks in large part to the strong support he received from the leaders of New Jersey’s 21 county Democratic parties. The wealthy former U.S. ambassador to Germany also spent about $21 million of his own money during the run up to the primary. But even during the primary campaign, Murphy stressed the need for the state to rebound from two terms under Christie, and to push back against policy decisions now coming from the Republican administration of President Donald Trump.
Murphy held a roundtable event in Newark yesterday that highlighted both the issue of women’s healthcare and Christie’s decision in 2010 to cut $7.5 million in state family-planning funding, including money that goes to Planned Parenthood. Murphy labeled the funding cut a “Christie-Guadagno” policy decision that has hurt women in New Jersey, particularly in low-income communities, and he pledged to reverse it as soon as he takes office.
“This is their administration, let there be no doubt about it,” Murphy said. “We’re going to fund Planned Parenthood, and we’re going to put women’s healthcare at the front of our agenda.”
The cumulative cost of Christie’s family-planning funding cuts is now over $50 million, healthcare advocates said during the roundtable, pointing to Christie’s regular vetoes of efforts by Democratic lawmakers to restore the aid through the annual budget. About $10 million of that funding would have gone to Planned Parenthood facilities in New Jersey, and though Christie initially labeled the cut as one necessitated by a tight budget, he bragged as a 2016 presidential candidate of repeatedly defunding Planned Parenthood.
That flip-flop was highlighted during the roundtable event, as were threats that Trump’s first budget proposal now pose to Planned Parenthood and other providers of women’s healthcare services. Also noted was the position that Guadagno, who is pro-choice, took during a debate last month against GOP primary opponent Jack Ciattarelli when the issue of Planned Parenthood came up.
Guadagno: no taxpayer money for Planned Parenthood
“When it comes to Planned Parenthood, look, private entities should not be funded with taxpayer money. Abortions should not be funded with taxpayer money,” she said during the debate. “If anybody can show me that abortions are not being funded through Planned Parenthood with taxpayer money we’ll make an effort, and we’ll take a look at it.”
But as the women’s healthcare advocates tried to link Christie’s funding cuts to rising rates of sexually transmitted diseases that can lead to cancer during yesterday’s event in Newark, Murphy took a firm stance.
“I know what we’re going to do in January if we’re successful,” he said. “You have my word on that.”
“Being on the other side of this issue is unacceptable. Too many lives are at stake,” Murphy said.
Guadagno was asked to respond to Murphy’s criticism after a public event she held with union members in Parsippany yesterday, and she disagreed with any assertion that Murphy would be a better governor for women.
“I’m a pro-choice woman who’s been a huge advocate for women, especially for women in the workforce, for 35 years,” she said.
‘Main Street, not Wall Street’
“If Phil Murphy wanted to fund Planned Parenthood, think of how many years he could’ve funded Planned Parenthood with the $20 million he spent in the primary,” Guadagno said. “What I have said is I didn’t think private tax dollars should be going to fund abortions, so if Planned Parenthood can show us that that’s not what’s happening, then we can have a discussion about it, and it should be a robust one because we don’t want to hurt women in any way.”
Guadagno’s own messaging yesterday also picked up where she left off during her victory speech on Tuesday night in West Long Branch after she easily won the GOP primary election, with Ciattarelli coming in a distant second. She kicked off what she’s calling a “Main Street, not Wall Street” tour with events in Evesham and Parsippany that seemed designed to bring attention to both the issue of New Jersey’s high taxes and Murphy’s background as a former executive with the Wall Street firm Goldman Sachs.
She also said during a live interview yesterday with WNYC radio’s Brian Lehrer that she plans to turn the November election into a referendum on taxes, and she highlighted a “circuit-breaker” proposal she’s put forward that would fund new property tax relief credits for low- and middle-income homeowners out of the state budget.
‘Referendum on taxes’
“It’s clearly a referendum on taxes,” Guadagno said. “What I’m saying is that I’m going to lower property taxes in New Jersey,” she went on to say.
Despite recent improvements in the state’s economy and unemployment rate, Guadagno said New Jersey residents still need more tax relief. She also cast promises that Murphy made during the Democratic primary — including fully funding things like public-employee pensions and healthcare and the state’s school-aid law — as indirect promises to hike taxes. And though Murphy has only talked about raising taxes on a small group that includes those making more than $1 million and multistate corporations and hedge-fund managers, she argued those changes won’t produce enough funding to fully deliver on his promises.
“There’s no way he can keep even a quarter of his promises without raising taxes on everyone,” Guadagno said.
Asked for a response to Guadagno’s criticism, and the notion that the November election will hinge on the affordability issue, Murphy said it sounds like Guadagno is trying to run “as far as she can” away from the governor.
“I think that’s going to be very hard for her to do as his wingman for the last 7 ½ years,” Murphy said. “We are proud that we have spent a lot of time on the math in this state, where we find the money to pay for what we need.”
“I think the people of the state understand that we’re in crisis, we’re an economy that doesn’t grow, that’s not fair, and they want adult leadership that doesn’t screw around with the math and actually portrays that in a fair and accurate way,” he said.