TRENTON - Phil Murphy, a former Goldman Sachs executive and ambassador to Germany, has made it official: He is seeking the Democratic nomination for governor next year, and will lend his campaign $10 million in seed money.
"It's time for a governor who has your back," Murphy says in a two-minute web video released Monday announcing his candidacy. "I will."
In the video, Murphy, the first person to declare a campaign to succeed Gov. Christie, advocates an "economy that works for all of us," equal pay for equal work, and a higher minimum wage. He also supports making college more affordable, and protecting communities from gun violence and lead poisoning.
Murphy, 58, of Middletown, openly expressed interest in running for governor two years ago. Since then, he has launched a nonprofit he said was aimed at promoting the middle class, and run a multimillion-dollar advertising campaign blasting Republicans including Christie and Donald Trump.
But his announcement comes unusually early in the election cycle; the primary is in June 2017. In an interview, Murphy said he and his wife, Tammy, and their four children were "not debating this at the kitchen table anymore. We've crossed that bridge. Let's call it like it is."
He also cited election law. "There are a lot of things you can do only if you're a candidate," he said, such as raise money.
Murphy's political group, New Way for New Jersey, spent $3.2 million between fall 2015 and the end of March, the vast majority from his own coffers, according to filings with the IRS. The group, which ran a series of cable TV ads starring Murphy and his family, ceased to exist Monday afternoon, Murphy said.
Although the first to jump into the race, Murphy is hardly the only person interested in succeeding Christie.
On the Democratic side, super PACs are already raising money for Senate President Stephen Sweeney of Gloucester County and Jersey City Mayor Steve Fulop. Sen. Raymond J. Lesniak of Union County and Assemblyman John S. Wisniewski of Middlesex County also are considering running.
Fulop is seen as having an advantage in North Jersey, which is rich with Democratic primary voters. Sweeney's base is in South Jersey.
Among Republicans, Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno recently announced that she would chair a nonprofit "think tank" that is widely seen as a platform for a potential campaign. The group's executive director, Bill Stepien, was Christie's campaign manager.
In the interview, Murphy suggested he would run as an outsider who is not beholden to special interests.
"I hope I'm seen as the adult in the room, someone who's not part of the insider class, not part of anybody's operation or machine, that I've got a fresh perspective, a set of experiences that are relevant for the state," particularly on the economy, Murphy said.
He added, "I think authenticity is a big factor right now."
Ben Dworkin, director of the Rebovich Institute for New Jersey Politics at Rider University, said he thought Murphy would run a "very policy-driven campaign."
"He wants to be the 'idea guy,' because he doesn't have an obvious political base," Dworkin said. "And he therefore has to convince people that he's got better ideas, better policies, a better program for the future."
Ideologically, Murphy described himself as a "proud progressive" who wants "to be known as someone who gets stuff done," echoing Hillary Clinton. Murphy said he plans to be a delegate at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia.
"We can be progressive and fiscally responsible and have a booming economy here," Murphy said. "I know it. We just haven't tried."
Murphy cohosted a fund-raiser for Clinton last week and said the two spoke privately about his gubernatorial ambitions. He said he had not asked for Clinton's support.
By lending his campaign $10 million, Murphy ranks among the top self-funders in New Jersey political history.
Only former Gov. Jon S. Corzine, a Democrat and former CEO of Goldman Sachs, and Republican Doug Forrester have spent more of their own money on gubernatorial campaigns.
In 2005, Corzine spent $53 million in inflation-adjusted 2015 dollars in his successful race against Forrester, who spent $37 million, according to an analysis conducted by the state Election Law Enforcement Commission.
Corzine spent $31 million of his money in an unsuccessful reelection campaign in 2009, when he lost to Christie.
With the $10 million loan, Murphy said he was "making a statement that this is deadly serious." Asked if he would commit more of his personal wealth to the campaign, he said, "Enough to win and not one penny more."
Murphy, who served as finance director for the Democratic National Committee from 2006 to 2009, said his campaign also would raise money from supporters.
Murphy's rivals are likely to portray him as another Corzine, a wealthy Wall Street executive who is not particularly popular in New Jersey.
Sen. Bernie Sanders' populist presidential campaign has underscored resentment toward Wall Street among Democratic primary voters.
Murphy spent more than two decades at Goldman Sachs, the investment bank, and said, "There are legitimate skills you pick up when you watch hundreds of examples of economies, companies, countries, [and] states" build jobs.
He also emphasized other parts of his resumé: as DNC finance chair under Howard Dean; ambassador to Germany from 2009 to 2013; board member of the NAACP; and board president of a charity for women and children who were victims of abuse.
During the last 12½ years, he said, "I have not spent one minute on Wall Street."
Murphy said he would release his tax returns soon, likely next week.
His campaign manager is Brendan Gill, who ran U.S. Sen. Cory A. Booker's successful reelection campaign in 2014.
Other advisers include longtime Democratic consultants Julie Roginsky, Steve Demicco, and Brad Lawrence.