Governor candidates to go head-to-head in final debate tonight 

Two most recent polls show Democrat Phil Murphy leading by between nine and 14 points
Credit: (Screengrab from WABC)
Sept. 28, 2021: Gov. Phil Murphy, a Democrat, left, and Republican Party challenger Jack Ciattarelli during their first gubernatorial debate.

The final debate between the two major party candidates for New Jersey governor is set for Tuesday, the last chance in a widely broadcast forum for both men to try to convince undecided voters to back them.

With no independent polling since their contentious Sept. 28 debate, it’s unclear whether Republican Jack Ciattarelli, a former assemblyman, has made up any ground in his bid to unseat Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy. The last two polls showed Murphy with a lead of between nine and 14 points.

Ciattarelli is likely to continue to hit Murphy on taxes, as well as his decisions in responding to the COVID-19 pandemic. Ciattarelli has also been trying to portray Murphy’s views on such social issues as abortion as radical — for instance, criticizing Murphy for pushing a bill that would codify abortion rights in New Jersey as going too far because it would allow an abortion at any point, even though that is already the case in the state. Ciattarelli also has criticized the Murphy administration’s police reform proposals as tying the hands of law enforcement and not supporting officers.

Murphy is expected to continue trying to tie Ciattarelli in the minds of voters to former President Trump. Trump is generally unpopular in New Jersey, having lost to President Biden by 16 points, but such an equivalence could also help Ciattarelli because many New Jersey Republicans back Trump. Murphy has been saying Ciattarelli is out of step with New Jerseyans’ views on such social issues as abortion rights and gun control, with Murphy dismissing Ciattarelli’s proposal that people in certain “dangerous” professions — including real estate agents — should be allowed to “conceal carry.” Murphy has also said his opponent’s opposition to mask mandates and support of vaccine choice do not follow science.

Tonight’s prime-time meeting at Rowan University, co-sponsored by NJ Spotlight News, will be broadcast live at 8 p.m. on NJ PBS stations and on WNYC radio, as well as livestreamed on, YouTube and the WNYC and Rowan University websites.

Mail-in ballots, in-person early voting

There are just three weeks left in the campaign, and people have already begun voting by mail-in ballot. New Jersey will also hold its first in-person machine early voting for nine days beginning Oct. 23 at polling locations throughout each county. Election Day is Nov. 2.

In addition to NJ Spotlight News, the debate sponsors are WNYC, New York Public Radio, Gothamist and the Rowan Institute for Public Policy and Citizenship.

The New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission chose the debate sponsors. So far, Murphy has received close to $9.5 million while Ciattarelli has gotten more than $7.4 million in public dollars toward their general election campaigns.

Only candidates who qualify for and receive public financing are required to participate in the debates. There are three other gubernatorial tickets on this year’s ballot: Madelyn Hoffman for governor with Heather Warburton for the Green Party, Gregg Mele with Eveline Brownstein for the Libertarian Party and Joanne Kuniansky with Vivian Sahner for the Socialist Workers Party.

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