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With reservations, Phil Murphy is our choice for New Jersey governor | Endorsement

The incumbent has made significant progress in many important areas, steered the state adequately during the pandemic, and deserves a second term.

Gov. Phil Murphy (right) during a gubernatorial debate with challenger Jack Ciattarelli at Rowan University in Glassboro, N.J., earlier this month.
Gov. Phil Murphy (right) during a gubernatorial debate with challenger Jack Ciattarelli at Rowan University in Glassboro, N.J., earlier this month.Read moreFrank Franklin II / AP

If the last four and a half decades are any indication, this year’s race for New Jersey governor might at first seem like a one-sided affair — and not in the way that some might think.

Despite its reputation as a deep blue state, favoring the Democratic candidate in every presidential election in the last 30 years, our neighbors in the Garden State haven’t been shy about sending Republicans to Drumthwacket, the governor’s mansion in Princeton. In fact, no Democrat has been reelected as New Jersey governor since 1977.

This year’s Republican challenger, former New Jersey Assemblyman Jack Ciattarelli, hopes to capture some of the same political lightning that propelled Christine Todd Whitman and Chris Christie to two terms each.

» READ MORE: Polls show Murphy with sizable lead

The incumbent, Phil Murphy, lacks the baggage of two of his predecessors, James Florio and Jon Corzine — the last two Democrats who failed to win reelection after completing their first terms: The last four years have not included a state government shutdown (as under Corzine’s watch) or any unprecedented tax hikes (which all but doomed Florio).

Murphy also has earned strong marks from New Jerseyans for his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic. During Murphy’s tenure, New Jersey has legalized marijuana, passed a tax on millionaires, increased the minimum wage, doubled family leave, and forged ahead on police reform. On the big, intractable issues with which New Jersey has long struggled — the high cost of living, lack of affordable housing, and sky-high property taxes — Murphy is less ambitious, and his campaign is less forthcoming.

Murphy’s lack of willingness to tackle more difficult issues does, not, however, mean that the right answer is Ciattarelli. While Ciattarelli is an affable candidate who seeks to cultivate a moderate image, he threatens to reverse some of the progress that Murphy has made during his first term.

Ciattarelli also seems to have grown too cozy with the extreme wing of his party. Democrats have seized on his appearance at a “Stop the Steal” rally last November as a sign that his views are out of touch with New Jerseyans. While Ciattarelli says he supports a woman’s right to choose, he would also cut funding for Planned Parenthood. On policing, Ciattarelli would remove needed oversight and reinforce the thin blue line rhetoric that created the current crisis. When it comes to fighting COVID-19, his willingness to defer to mask opponents and vaccine skeptics would impede the state’s progress in bringing down case numbers. It is these positions, more than anything else, that seem likely to keep Ciattarelli from following in the footsteps of previous New Jersey Republicans.

» READ MORE: Ciattarelli tries to balance appealing to moderates and the MAGA base

These positions are also why, despite reservations, we endorse Phil Murphy for reelection as New Jersey governor. While Murphy hasn’t fully articulated a vision capable of fixing New Jersey’s most entrenched problems, he has made significant progress in many important areas, and steered the state adequately during the pandemic.

Now that the easiest part of his progressive agenda has been secured, we implore Murphy to use his second term, and likely strong majorities in the Legislature, to create sustainable solutions around the cost of living, the future of Atlantic City, and affordable housing.