Gov. Phil Murphy and Republican former state Assemblyman Jack Ciattarelli are scheduled to square off in their first televised live debate at 7 p.m. on Sept. 28 at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center in Newark.
Murphy, a first-term Democrat, is the only governor in the state fighting to keep his state this year. In Virginia, the incumbent Democrat Gov. Ralph Northam is ineligible to run due to a state law barring consecutive terms.
No Democratic governor in New Jersey has won a second term since 1977. And despite record-high polls during the pandemic, Murphy’s voter approval has slid to pre-pandemic levels as the COVID-19 pandemic drags on for nearly 17 months.
Voters have, in polls released shortly before last month’s Democratic and Republican primaries, increasingly voiced concerns about more run-of-the-mill issues such as taxes.
In New Jersey, the 59-year-old accountant faces poor name recognition compared to Murphy, who himself holds a double-digit lead over Ciattarelli.
Amid the widespread surge of the Delta variant, Ciattarelli has aggressively courted the “vaccine freedom” voting constituent, arguing that parents should have new means to exempt their school-age children from all manner of immunizations, especially the COVID-19 shot.
Murphy’s campaign has attacked Ciattarelli on those stances. And Ciattarelli has vowed to roll back LGBT curriculum in New Jersey’s schools, arguing kindergarteners are being made to learn about “gender ID and sexual orientation” and sixth-graders about “sodomy.”
The former state Assemblyman has been highly critical of the landmark $14.5 billion incentive program Murphy approved this January after the measure was rushed to his desk, and said that the $300 per week in federal unemployment relief should be discontinued if the state hopes to stymie its ongoing labor shortage.
Now, the two will have the chance to square off in just less than two months.
“This debate comes on the heels of a deadly pandemic, a renewed push for social justice, and a contentious Presidential election,” John Schreiber, NJPAC’s president and CEO, said in the July 29 announcement. “Our community has much to discuss.”
The debate is being broadcast by WABC-TV, WPVI, Univision65, NJ Advance Media, WHYY and WCTC radio, Rutgers Eagleton Institute of Politics, and Rutgers School of Public Affairs and Administration, according to the statement, while NJPAC and public relations firm Evergreen Partners are producing the debate.
No date has been set for the second gubernatorial debate, nor has a first date been set between the current lieutenant governor – Sheila Oliver – and Ciattarelli’s pick, whoever that may be.