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New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy on Joe Biden’s win, Amy Kennedy’s loss, and why he won’t leave for D.C.

Murphy said the state's first mostly mail-in election ran smoothly, and he looks forward to a new Biden administration.

Gov. Phil Murphy says he wouldn't consider a job in the Biden administration. "I’ve got my dream job," he said.
Gov. Phil Murphy says he wouldn't consider a job in the Biden administration. "I’ve got my dream job," he said.Read moreTIM TAI / Staff Photographer

In Pennsylvania, it took days for elections workers to count enough ballots to call the state for Joe Biden. But across the river in New Jersey, most races were called soon after the polls closed last week, thanks to a law that allowed elections officials to pre-canvass ballots before Election Day. It was one of the changes made this year that Gov. Phil Murphy said allowed the largely mail-in election to run smoothly.

In South Jersey, Murphy and his party got a win in one of two hotly contested congressional races, as Andy Kim became the first Democrat in decades to win consecutive terms representing the 3rd Congressional District. And despite greatly outspending him, newcomer Amy Kennedy lost her bid against incumbent Jeff Van Drew for his 2nd District Seat, following Van Drew’s switch from the Democratic to the Republican Party.

Murphy spoke by phone with The Inquirer this week about the 2020 election and his longtime friendship with the president-elect, whom Murphy met while serving as finance chair for the Democratic National Committee in the late 2000s. He also served under Biden as the U.S. ambassador to Germany from 2009 to 2013.

The governor also talked about his hopes of how the new administration will manage the pandemic. On Thursday, new coronavirus-related restrictions to dining and youth sports will go into effect in New Jersey; Murphy ordered the guidelines in response to surging cases that he said signal a “second wave" of infections has begun.

This conversation has been edited for clarity and length.

How do you feel the election went?

Really well. As of Friday we had more than 4.2 million ballots from hand-ins or mail, surpassing our total of 3.9 million in 2016. (Note: The total has since climbed to 4.4 million.) We start counting provisional ballots this week. One thing I’d like to change is to have in-person early voting available. I want to push for that next time. It’s something we’re looking at and it’s going to be a bipartisan effort.

You’ve known Joe Biden a long time. What are some of the things you can expect from his administration? In terms of the pandemic, do you believe there will be an immediate change?

In New Jersey, we have been able to find common ground with the Trump administration. But I think the Biden administration will have a dramatic, immediate impact in terms of consistency and in terms of a responsible approach we’ll see. I suspect he’ll want to keep people like [leading infectious-disease expert Anthony] Fauci, who can bring their expertise to this crisis. I do think it will be a light switch in tone as well as in substance.

Would you take a job working for Biden or in his cabinet?

I’m flattered that people are asking, but there’s no chance. I am all Jersey, all the time. And we are in a life-or-death situation here with this virus.

What if it was your dream job?

I’ve got my dream job.

What do you make of the broader results in the election, in terms of how Republicans fared in down-ballot races and the strong support that President Trump still has with many in the state and in the country?

I did expect Amy Kennedy to win her race against Jeff Van Drew. It’s the most conservative district in the state, so I guess I shouldn’t be shocked. But elsewhere in the state, the Democrats did very well. We saw that in a lot of counties, there was that blue wave here in New Jersey.

And what I hope people will start to understand is, there’s a sincerity to Biden when he says he’ll find common ground. I think over time, even the folks who voted against him in large numbers will come to see that and respect that.