Independent spending for the Republican and Democratic contenders for New Jersey governor surged to more than $39 million ahead of Tuesday’s election, according to the latest campaign finance reports.
Data released Oct. 29 by New Jersey Election Law Enforcement – the state’s campaign finance watchdog – show independent, outside groups spending $13.4 million for the primaries and nearly $25.2 million for the general election.
That marked a 57% increase since the 2017 gubernatorial election’s independent spending levels, which topped $24.5 million, according to NJELEC.
“For more than a decade, we at ELEC have spoken about the growing influence of these so-called outside or independent groups. This year’s election already has taken it to new heights,” reads a prepared statement issued Friday from Jeff Brindle, who heads the state watchdog.
Voters will head to the polls Nov. 2 to decide whether incumbent Democrat Gov. Phil Murphy deserves a second term, or whether he should be replaced by former state Assemblyman from Somerset County Jack Ciattarelli.
Murphy leads Ciattarelli in every poll that has come out so far, including a nine-point lead in a poll released Friday by Fairleigh Dickinson University.
With the national spotlight turning on this week’s New Jersey and Virginia gubernatorial races, both Garden State candidates campaigned feverishly up through the weekend and the next day. Murphy has held dozens get-out-the-vote rallies up and down the state, and Ciattarelli has hosted dozens of meet-and-greets at diners, eateries and other community-gathering spots across New Jersey.
Independent spending surged by $4 million in the past week alone, according to the report.
Two of the biggest spenders so far have been the Republican Governors Association, which spent nearly $3.2 million for Ciattarelli, and the Democratic Governors Association, which spent $2.3 million for Murphy.
In fact, just as the NJELEC report was going out, the RGA dropped another $616,764 for the Ciattarelli campaign.
All told, the two candidates have shelled out a combined $46 million – more than double the 2017 election between Murphy and then-Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno – when a combined $23.8 million was spent.
“With just two governor seats in play this year here and in Virginia, and the seeming tightening of polls in New Jersey, both parties seem to be viewing this as a high stakes race,’’ Brindle said in the report last week.
Both candidates are neck-and-neck with spending. Murphy has raised $16 million and spent $12.5 million, with a $3.5 million reserve. Ciattarelli, meanwhile, has raised $13.1 million and spent $12.4 million, with $685,259 in reserves.
Garden State Forward, the super PAC for the state’s largest teacher’s union, the New Jersey Education Association, spent $5.5 million, giving $3 million to the pro-Murphy super PAC Our NJ and $2.5 million to the DGA-backed group the Committee to Build the Economy.
The DGA meanwhile gave $2 million to Our NJ, which has spent $6.7 million toward Murphy’s reelection bid.
“This is likely tighter than I think any of us expected,” Ashley Koning, who heads the Eagleton Center for Public Interest Polling at Rutgers University, said in a phone interview last week.
In recent weeks Murphy has gotten visits and endorsements from several high-profile Democrats, including President Joe Biden and First Lady Jill Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris and former President Barack Obama. And U.S Sen. Bernie Sanders, a Vermont independent widely considered one of the more left-leaning members of Congress, stumped with Murphy last week at Rutgers University in New Brunswick.
There are three other candidates for New Jersey governor: Libertarian nominee Greg Mele, Green Party nominee Madelyn Hoffman and the Socialist Workers Party’s nominee Joanne Kuniansky.