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N.J. Republican Jack Ciattarelli, governor candidate, asks for patience while all votes are counted

Gov. Murphy was reelected by a margin that was narrower than many expected, but he was projected the winner on Wednesday.

New Jersey Republican gubernatorial candidate Jack Ciattarelli greets supporters in a hotel ballroom at his watch party on Nov. 2 in Bridgewater, New Jersey.
New Jersey Republican gubernatorial candidate Jack Ciattarelli greets supporters in a hotel ballroom at his watch party on Nov. 2 in Bridgewater, New Jersey.Read moreSpencer Platt / MCT

A day after New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy was projected the winner of a second term in office, his Republican challenger, Jack Ciattarelli, urged patience and asked supporters to “let the process play out.”

“Nobody should be declaring victory or conceding the election until every legal vote is counted,” said Ciattarelli, who has not conceded, in a video message to supporters. He noted it could take another week or two for provisional and vote-by-mail ballots to be tallied.

As he has since before the election, Ciattarelli also cautioned voters from thinking that the close race had been rigged.

“I don’t want people falling victim to wild conspiracy theories or online rumors,” he said. “While consideration is paid to any and all credible reports, please don’t believe everything you see or read online.”

After a nail-biting election night that saw Murphy and Ciattarelli in a dead heat and results that were too close to call for almost 24 hours after the polls closed, Murphy had a lead Thursday afternoon of more than 44,000 votes with machine totals in from 99% of polling places, according to the Associated Press. His lead doubled from the figure on Wednesday night.

That night, campaign spokesperson Stami Williams had disputed the AP’s projection of Murphy as the winner, saying it was “irresponsible” to make the call when many ballots remained uncounted.

Ciattarelli’s campaign has not indicated whether it would ask for a recount in the election, though Murphy’s lead has grown significantly since Wednesday.

“Any decision on a recount or audit will come at the very end of the county process, not before,” Ciattarelli said in the video message, in which he urged voters to report any electoral issues. His last public appearance was during an election-night gathering in Somerset County.

New Jersey does not have an automatic recount law in the event of close races, but candidates can request them in specific counties. Any political party seeking a recount must file for one in state Superior Court within 17 days of Election Day.

» READ MORE: New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy wins second term, turning away strong GOP challenge

Thursday afternoon, Murphy spoke to hundreds of educators in Atlantic City at a convention for the New Jersey Education Association, one of his strongest backers. The union’s political action committee spent $5.5 million on his behalf during the general election.

“I can’t tell you how eager I am to see what we can do in the next four years,” Murphy told the crowd. “I wasn’t sure until last evening that I was going to be able to say that this morning.”

Murphy was the first incumbent Democratic governor to win reelection in New Jersey since 1977. He also won reelection in the tightest Garden State gubernatorial race since 1981, when Republican Tom Kean bested Jim Florio by fewer than 2,000 votes. Florio insisted on a recount and did not concede for 27 days.

Murphy had been seen early on as favored to win, given that registered Democrats now outnumber Republicans by a million and the state is seen as shifting to the left. President Joe Biden won 57% of the vote last year. Polls showed Murphy with a double-digit lead even a week before the election, but Republican insiders had predicted for weeks that the final results would be far closer.

In one poll several days before the election, Monmouth University reported that Murphy was leading by as many as 11 percentage points. In a column published Thursday by the Newark Star-Ledger, Monmouth pollster Patrick Murray wrote: “I blew it.”

In his victory speech Wednesday night in Asbury Park, Murphy said he would represent all New Jerseyans.

“I renew my promise to you, whether you voted for me or not, to work every single day of the next four years to keep moving us forward,” he said. “Forward with renewed optimism to ensure greater opportunities for all 9.3 million who call this great state home.”

Democrats will also keep control of the Assembly and Senate, but with slimmer majorities. They were expected to lose two South Jersey Senate seats and four Assembly seats in the region, decreasing the area’s political muscle in Trenton.

A former Goldman Sachs executive who made millions on Wall Street, Murphy, 64, campaigned on his record: He signed bills for pay equity and legalizing recreational marijuana, and invested in clean energy. He passed a tax on millionaires and expanded free tuition at state colleges.

Murphy used his executive power to impose broad business and public health restrictions to curb the spread of the coronavirus. He was among the last governors in the country to fully reopen restaurants last year, and as cases spiked this year, he imposed mask mandates for teachers and students, as well as vaccine mandates for health-care workers and others.

Ciattarelli and other Republicans say that those accomplishments came at a cost and that Murphy’s spending took the state deeper into debt. Ciattarelli framed the election as a referendum on Murphy, hammering him on the state’s high taxes and his coronavirus-related public health restrictions.

Murphy has outlined few specific goals for a second term, saying he will build on the accomplishments of his first term, focus on ethics reform, and pass legislation to protect abortion rights in the state.

Ciattarelli, 59, campaigned while keeping some distance from former President Donald Trump but without driving away some of Trump’s most fervent supporters in the Garden State.

Staff writers Jonathan Tamari and Rodrigo Torrejón contributed to this article.