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N.J. Gov. Phil Murphy’s campaign says his GOP challenger should concede: ‘The race is over’

Murphy’s campaign says any comeback for Republican candidate Jack Ciattarelli is mathematically impossible.

Incumbent Democrat Phil Murphy, right, says his Republican challenger Jack Ciattarelli should concede in the race for New Jersey governor.
Incumbent Democrat Phil Murphy, right, says his Republican challenger Jack Ciattarelli should concede in the race for New Jersey governor.Read moreAP; TOM GRALISH / Staff Photographer

Citing New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy’s growing margin of victory in last week’s election, Murphy’s campaign manager on Monday called for Republican Jack Ciattarelli to “face reality” and concede the race.

With 98% of the expected vote counted, Murphy was ahead by more than 67,000 votes, a 2.7% margin, according to the Associated Press. In a statement, Murphy campaign manager Mollie Binotto said the only votes yet to be counted are vote-by-mail and provisional ballots. The vote-by-mail ballots have overwhelmingly favored Murphy, she said, and the nearly 57,000 outstanding provisional ballots are not enough to erase his lead.

“The race is over. Assemblyman Ciattarelli is mathematically eliminated, and he must accept the results and concede the race,” Binotto said. “His continuing failure to do so is an assault on the integrity of our elections.”

Mark Sheridan, legal counsel for Ciattarelli, countered that his campaign estimated there were still 70,000 provisional ballots to be added to the totals, and pointed to errors in this year’s newly implemented early voting process as a factor in the ongoing delays. Sheridan acknowledged that the final results were not likely to erase Murphy’s advantage, but said they could reduce it enough to warrant a request for a recount.

“Waiting an additional day or two for all votes to be counted should not be controversial,” Sheridan said in a statement. “Let me be clear, no one on this team is alleging fraud or malfeasance, as we have not seen any credible evidence of that. However, the new law Gov. Murphy and state Democrats rushed to enact led to this disjointed and excruciatingly slow vote counting process.”

Asked to comment on the issue at his regular coronavirus briefing Monday, Murphy said it was “dangerous” to delay accepting an election result when the outcome was decisive.

“There’s a difference between conceding and counting every vote. We’re going to count every vote,” he said. “That’s never been a question.”

Last week, Ciattarelli urged patience among his supporters as the final votes were tallied, saying in a video message that “nobody should be declaring victory or conceding the election until every legal vote is counted.”

Ciattarelli’s campaign spokesperson said then that the AP’s call was “irresponsible,” given that many ballots had not yet been counted. Murphy’s lead has since more than tripled.

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

“By failing to publicly acknowledge that he has lost the race, Assemblyman Ciattarelli is misleading his supporters into thinking he has a chance to prevail,” Binotto said. “But he does not.”

Binotto also pushed back on the narrative that has circulated in political circles and the press since last week: that despite a Democratic voter advantage of a million people, Murphy narrowly avoided an upset. Though Murphy went into the election buoyed by polling that suggested he could win by a wide margin, election night saw him and Ciattarelli in a dead heat, and results were too close to call for almost a day. But as has been the case in other recent elections, including last year’s presidential race, the vote-by-mail ballots tallied in the days since favored the Democratic candidate.

“This was not a close race,” Binotto said in the statement, noting that Murphy’s margin of victory is larger than that of Glenn Youngkin, the governor-elect of Virginia, who won in the country’s other gubernatorial election last week. “It just seemed that way given the delayed reporting of votes on Tuesday night.”

Ciattarelli strategist Chris Russell dismissed that in a statement.

“We understand that Gov. Murphy and his team are embarrassed that in a state with 1 million more registered Democrats and where Joe Biden won by 16 points, they are leading by such a small margin,” Russell said. “But the Murphy campaign’s attempt to spin their lackluster performance will have no impact on our decision.”

Ciattarelli’s campaign has not indicated whether it will ask for a recount. New Jersey does not have an automatic recount law for 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.

“Any decision on a recount or audit will come at the very end of the county process, not before,” Ciattarelli, a former state assemblyman from Somerset County, said in his video message last week.

Tuesday’s election also resulted in the defeat of Democratic Senate president Steve Sweeney, the longest-serving Senate president in the state’s history and the second-most-powerful elected official in the state. Sweeney, who lost by about 2,000 votes to a Republican truck driver who’s never held elected office, has also said he would not concede until more votes are counted.

Murphy is the first Democratic governor to win reelection in New Jersey since 1977. In remarks Sunday on Meet the Press, Murphy said he and other Democrats would have to work harder to reach more families.

“It’s quite clear there’s a lot of hurt out there,” he said. “There are a lot of kitchen tables that we need to connect more deeply with and help folks get through this period, whether they lost a loved one, a job, a small business, they’re frustrated by the ongoing pandemic or economic recovery, whatever it may be.”