At an elaborate party he hosted Tuesday night at the Borgata, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Phil Murphy rallied party support and vowed to take on the kind of “failed special interest politics” that he says Gov. Chris Christie has played in Trenton.And he did it poolside.
“It’s time to give him his walking papers,” Murphy said of Christie, to loud applause of more than 1,000. “Move it aside, turn the page.”
The party corresponded with the opening night of the annual New Jersey State League of Municipalities Conference in Atlantic City. The three-day conference, now in its 101st year, will continue through Thursday.
Murphy’s party was clearly the must-be-seen spot of the opening night. Crowds of people waited in long lines just to get in. Once they did, they found a band, open bars and wall-to-wall people, all trying to get a quick word or a quick photo with the man many feel not only will be the Democratic candidate but the state’s next governor.
The event had the feel of a victory celebration — one for an election that is still a year away.
Much can change in that time. And Murphy noted much can change overnight, telling supporters New Jersey can be a fresh start for the Democratic Party.
Referencing last week’s presidential election that saw a surprise victory for Republican Donald Trump, Murphy, a former Goldman Sachs executive and former U.S. Ambassador to Germany, said he believes New Jersey will play a pivotal role in helping the Democratic Party recover.
“The world and the nation changed last Tuesday,” Murphy said of Trump’s win. “One short week ago, the game changed for the worse.”
No part of the state will be overlooked and no one will take “one single vote for granted,” added Murphy.
“We will win this election one vote at a time,” said Murphy.
Less than two months ago, rumors had pointed to state Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-West Deptford) and Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop being the Democratic favorites to run for the office, with Murphy perceived as being on the outside looking in.
But Murphy quickly ascended to frontrunner status after Fulop and Sweeney each backed out, clearing the path for the Monmouth County resident as he racked up endorsements.
Still, Murphy won’t be entirely unchallenged, as Assemblyman John Wisniewski (D-Sayreville) formally jumped into the race earlier in the day with a pledge to fight for the state’s “under siege” middle class.
“I believe New Jersey deserves the kind of leadership that’s not transactional, but transformative,” Wisniewski said in a YouTube video to supporters Tuesday. “To make sure that the middle class has a fair shot. Nothing’s impossible with the right kind of leadership.”
Wisniewski also worked the crowds in Atlantic City. “How about we have a two-person primary, the way it should be? That would be something,” he said at a different party.
Wisniewski, who rose to prominence in 2014 by leading the legislative probe into the George Washington Bridge lane closure scandal, said Tuesday night at a Middlesex County Democratic Organization event at the Borgata that the feedback for his announcement had been positive thus far, and that the primary race needed two choices.
Last month, however, Middlesex County Democrats did pledge their support to Murphy, who also briefly attended the second party before making another appearance at a New Jersey Young Democrats event at a separate venue within the Borgata.
On Wednesday, the issue of Murphy’s candidacy and his latest challenge from Wisniewski will be sure to come up on a panel featuring former governors at the Atlantic City Convention Center.
Later in the day, the state’s four legislative leaders will also be sitting for a separate panel discussion.
Andrew George, Anjalee Khemlani and Tom Bergeron contributed to this report from Atlantic City.