RARITAN, N.J. — While publicly conceding his loss to New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy, Republican gubernatorial candidate Jack Ciattarelli on Friday announced that he will run again in four years.
In front of dozens of supporters and journalists in the Raritan municipal building, where he started his political career 35 years earlier, Ciattarelli, 59, first played coy about his future, saying that his immediate plans were to get dinner with his wife Friday night and chop some wood this weekend.
But after prompting a journalist to ask whether he will run in the 2025 race, Ciattarelli said, “That is exactly my plan. I’ll be running for governor.”
The Republican said that he hoped Murphy will learn from the results of this year’s closer-than-expected race. But he said he fears that things will go back to usual in the Democrat-controlled state capital.
“We sent a powerful message to Trenton, and although it was never my intention, we sent a very powerful message to the nation,” said Ciattarelli, an accountant and former state lawmaker. “Here in New Jersey, for a lot of individuals and families, taxes are an issue. Standing in line at motor vehicles is an issue. Not getting someone on the phone at unemployment or any other state department is an issue. Properly teaching our children in school is an issue.”
Governors cannot serve more than two consecutive terms in New Jersey, meaning Ciattarelli will be facing a new Democratic nominee if he wins the GOP nod in 2025.
Although this year’s race was close, the writing has been on the wall for days for Ciattarelli, and Murphy’s campaign had previously called on him to concede. The Associated Press declared victory for the incumbent Democrat the day after the Nov. 2 election, and Murphy built on his narrow lead — now about 74,000 votes — as more ballots were counted.
Although Ciattarelli delayed announcing that he would concede, he has emphasized that he is not questioning the legitimacy of the election results. On Friday, he directly addressed supporters who have urged him to question Murphy’s victory and pursue a recount, saying that he has faith in the electoral system.
“If you think I’d be standing here today conceding if I thought I won this election, you couldn’t be more wrong,” he said. “I see no proof that this election was stolen.”
Although Ciattarelli came up short, the fact that he lost in deep-blue New Jersey by only about 3 percentage points to Murphy — who won the 2017 general election by 14 percentage points — is one of the results from the 2021 cycle that is fueling the sense that Republicans may have a strong showing in next year’s midterm elections, in which Democrats will attempt to cling to slim advantages in Congress. Ciattarelli was lifted by a big increase in GOP turnout compared to the 2020 presidential race.
Like Glenn Youngkin, the Republican who won the Virginia governor’s race, Ciattarelli attempted to thread a needle between exciting the GOP base loyal to former President Donald J. Trump and alienating more centrist voters in a state that typically votes for Democrats. He focused on bread-and-butter issues like cutting taxes and reducing government waste, rather than Trump-fueled causes like questioning the legitimacy of the 2020 presidential election.
Signs of Murphy’s vulnerability emerged late in the campaign, when public opinion polls shifted from showing a comfortable lead for the incumbent to indicating a close race.
Murphy brought in some star power to close out his campaign and held a rally with former President Barack Obama in Newark 10 days before the election. In the end, Murphy became the first Democratic governor of New Jersey to win reelection in the last 44 years.
Ciattarelli on Friday declined to speculate on whom he may face in 2025 or what the issues of the day will be, but he said he will not be surprised if the same concerns that fueled voters to support him were still important four years from now.
“My job was to make sure that we were talking about the issues that are important to New Jerseyans,” he said. “I hope that the governor has taken something away from this election, particularly because of its closeness.”