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New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy has a 16-point lead over Republican Jack Ciattarelli in a new poll

Murphy is leading Ciattarelli by double digits in both the northern and central parts of the state, while Ciattarelli is slightly ahead in South Jersey.

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy in Seaside Heights last month.
New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy in Seaside Heights last month.Read moreWayne Parry / AP

More than half of New Jersey voters support reelecting Gov. Phil Murphy, according to a new poll, and Republican challenger Jack Ciattarelli is still relatively unknown less than three months before Election Day.

Murphy leads Ciattarelli 52% to 36%, according to the Monmouth University survey released Wednesday, which also found that Murphy’s favorability ratings have dropped closer to pre-pandemic levels.

While almost half of New Jerseyans surveyed had a favorable impression of Murphy, only 26% said the same about Ciattarelli and 61% had no opinion. That’s an improvement for Ciattarelli from a June poll, which found 70% of voters didn’t know enough about the Republican nominee to have an opinion.

Since his victory over more Trump-allied candidates in the June primary, Ciattarelli’s campaign has spent more than $175,000 on TV ads to introduce himself to the wider electorate, according to the advertising tracking firm AdImpact.

Murphy and Ciattarelli, a former state assemblyman from Somerset County, both draw broad support from their own parties. But Murphy, a Democrat, leads Ciattarelli 44% to 38% among voters who aren’t aligned with either party, according to the poll. Registered Democrats outnumber Republicans by one million in New Jersey.

And Murphy is leading Ciattarelli by double digits in both the northern and central parts of the state, while Ciattarelli is slightly ahead in South Jersey.

Monmouth pollster Patrick Murray said the survey reflects the challenges any Republican would face this year. Central Jersey was key to Republican Chris Christie’s 2009 victory over then-incumbent Gov. Jon Corzine. But now the region is backing Murphy over Ciattarelli, 52% to 38%.

“The key to GOP victory in the past has been winning over upper-income moderate Republicans in Somerset County and working-class swing voters in Middlesex,” Murray said in a statement. “Both these groups have swung decidedly toward the Democratic Party during the Trump era, and it doesn’t look like they are about to swing back any time soon — even for someone like Ciattarelli, who is one of their own.”

» READ MORE: Jack Ciattarelli wants to make his campaign against Phil Murphy about who the real ‘Jersey guy’ is

If Murphy wins a second term in November, he would be New Jersey’s first Democratic governor in decades to win reelection.

Murphy’s approval ratings have slipped from a high of 71% in the early days of the pandemic, when voters overwhelmingly approved of his crisis response. But the Monmouth poll found that most voters still see the pandemic as their top concern — and 46% said they trust Murphy more than Ciattarelli on the issue.

Voters of color overwhelmingly back Murphy over Ciattarelli, including 85% to 5% among Black voters and 69% to 19% among Latinos, Asians, and multiracial voters.

But only about a third of those surveyed said Murphy’s political views are aligned with those of most New Jerseyans, while 46% weren’t sure. Almost three-quarters of respondents said they were unsure about Ciattarelli, with just 13% saying his views are in line with the state.

“Welcome to New Jersey elections, where a large chunk of the electorate does not tune in until mid-October,” Murray said. “That means Ciattarelli still has to be introduced to most voters. The question is whether the candidate or his opponent gets to make the introduction. A good bet is the Murphy team will pour resources into ads casting the largely unknown challenger as too extreme for the state.”

Murphy’s campaign hadn’t aired TV ads since the primary, according to AdImpact.

The poll was conducted after Ciattarelli’s selection of former State Sen. Diane Allen as his running mate. Eighty percent of those surveyed said they haven’t heard of Allen, while 66% said they haven’t heard of current Lt. Gov Sheila Oliver.

The poll of 810 New Jersey registered voters, conducted Aug. 11 to Aug. 16, has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.