Democrat wins N.J. governor's race to succeed GOP's Chris Christie

ASBURY PARK, N.J. — Former Goldman Sachs executive and major Democratic donor Phil Murphy will replace Chris Christie and serve as New Jersey’s 56th governor, after defeating Republican Kim Guadagno in the election Tuesday.

CNN projected Murphy as the winner immediately after the polls closed at 8 p.m. ET.

The contest to replace the unpopular, term-limited Christie lacked drama, with Murphy leading in polls by double-digit margins throughout the summer and fall.

Murphy, 60, after retiring from Wall Street led the finance arm of the Democratic National Committee for several years, then was U.S. ambassador to Germany from 2009 to 2013.

He got an early-bird start on the race for governor with a video announcement of his candidacy in May 2016, saying that while it was "unusual" for a candidate to declare so early, the state's myriad problems "can't wait" any longer for solutions.

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There was speculation that Guadagno's chances had improved when rain hit most of the state during the chilly afternoon, with a lower turnout seen as helping the Republicans.

“The weather does have an impact in holding turnout down,’’ said Monmouth University pollster Patrick Murray.

A 2007 study concluded that lousy weather decreased voter turnout and benefited Republicans. For every inch of rain, voter turnout declined by just under 1%, researchers said.

But it didn't matter Tuesday. 

As for Christie, who will be out of office in favor of the new governor on Jan. 16, he showed he is not going quietly into the night.

After Christie voted near his home in Mendham Township, he got into an argument with another voter who questioned why during his eight years in office he didn't advocate for consolidating the township with Mendham Borough.

Christie told the voter she won't run for office to address her concerns because it's "too hard."

“You’re so frustrated and you know what the easiest thing in the world, the easiest thing in the world is to stand where you stand and stand on the sidelines and critique,” Christie said.

Guadagno’s visit to the polls in Monmouth Beach wasn’t as eventful.

“I voted for myself, because I believe I’m the best candidate,’’ Guadagno said, laughing, when asked who she picked.

Murphy, after he voted in Middletown, said he was confident about his chances.

“We feel very comfortable with the way this closed out. We did a ton of retail (meeting voters),’’ said Murphy, flanked by his wife, Tammy, and their four children, all of whom showed off matching wool Allbird athletic shoes.

Otherwise, Guadagno spent her day wrapping up a 60-stop statewide bus tour that she started last week. Murphy attended four campaign events on the heels of being joined by rocker Jon Bon Jovi at an Asbury Park campaign rally on Sunday.

For all their efforts, Murphy and Guadagno together didn't have much luck at sparking excitement within the electorate.

"Polling indicates that this will be a record low turnout election,'' said Murray, head of the Monmouth University Polling Institute. "Even though this means the electorate will be comprised of people who vote in nearly every election, a majority of these habitual voters say they really don’t know where either candidate stands politically. They are simply pulling the lever for the Democrat or the Republican.''

Virginians also went to the polls Tuesday. The New Jersey and Virginia elections were considered a first referendum on the performance of Donald Trump, who won the presidency last November. 

Virginia also brought bad news for Trump, because Democratic Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam defeated Ed Gillespie, a former chairman of the Republican National Committee.

Both Murphy and Northam made the Trump presidency central to their campaign themes. At the same time, Guadagno and Gillespie tried to distance themselves from the presidents.

Trump didn’t campaign in Virginia for Gillespie, but he tweeted several supportive messages during the campaign. On Monday, he tweeted that the Virginia economy would come “roaring” back with Gillespie. And Tuesday, he took a break from his Asia trip to attack Northam as soft on crime.

“Ralph Northam will allow crime to be rampant in Virginia,” he tweeted. “He’s weak on crime, weak on our GREAT VETS, Anti-Second Amendment....”

Trump also did not support Guadagno in her New Jersey campaign, and he made no comments about Murphy.

Follow Bob Jordan on Twitter: @BobJordanAPP