- Associated Press - Monday, June 5, 2017

TRENTON, N.J. (AP) - There was more to the New Jersey primary race to succeed Republican Gov. Chris Christie than sparring in debates and attack ads.

Tuesday’s Democratic and Republican primaries have also seen celebrities backing candidates, the potential candidacy of a former “Saturday Night Live” star, frequent invocations of President Donald Trump and repeated references to the Palace of Versailles.

Yes, the Palace of Versailles.

Six Democrats and five Republicans are on the ballot to succeed Christie. The governor is term-limited and is set to leave office in January. The general election is Nov. 7.

A closer look at some of the action in the race beyond the issues:

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CELEBRITY ENDORSEMENTS

Jack Antonoff, of the bands Fun and Bleachers, backed Democrat Jim Johnson, as did his girlfriend, Lena Dunham, the actress and creator of the HBO show “Girls.” She recorded a video of herself in bed with a stuffed animal endorsing him, even though she lives in New York.

Former Vice President Joe Biden attended a rally for Democratic front-runner Phil Murphy , saying this year’s race was important to push back against Trump. Rocker Jon Bon Jovi and actress Whoopi Goldberg also backed Murphy.

On the Republican side, Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno got the backing of former “Saturday Night Live” comedian Joe Piscopo , who said she understands New Jersey residents are too heavily taxed. Piscopo had flirted with his own run, either as a Republican or independent.

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WILL HE OR WON’T HE?

Piscopo also fueled speculation that he might run for governor this year, ultimately deciding against running as a Republican and an independent. The entertainer, who currently hosts a morning drive-time talk radio show on AM 970 in New York, said he was seriously considering a run but opted out of the race because he didn’t want to be a “divider.”

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A PALACE IN TRENTON?

Allusions to French royalty also featured regularly and unexpectedly during the primary race. Guadagno compared Christie’s planned $300 million statehouse renovation to the Palace of Versailles, the 17th century royal French palace.

Guadagno made the populist attack to suggest showy wealth at the seat of power and to distance herself from the unpopular Christie, whom she has mostly supported over their two terms. Christie has said the building, parts of which date to the 18th century, is in disrepair and in dire need of renovation. The project is moving forward, but Guadagno has promised to scrap it if elected.

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TRUMP

The Democratic candidates have all denounced Trump: Murphy’s final pitch to voters shows the former ambassador and Goldman Sachs executive promising in a TV ad to stand resolutely against Trump; Johnson traveled to Bedminster, where the president owns a golf club to unveil what he called a “Trump Protection Plan.” Democratic Assemblyman John Wisniewski implicitly linked Trump and White House advisers who also worked at Goldman Sachs to Murphy in a recent TV ad. The leading Republican candidates have mostly avoided talking about the president and both said they did not support him last year.

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THE CHRISTIE FACTOR

Christie, whose approval ratings are around 20 percent, hasn’t endorsed a candidate in the Republican primary. But the governor has bashed Murphy, citing former Democratic Gov. Jon Corzine. “The only difference between Phil Murphy and Jon Corzine is that Phil Murphy doesn’t have a beard - that’s the only difference between the two of them. They both bought the nomination, they both have no experience,” Christie said recently.

Murphy has disputed comparisons to Corzine and rebutted claims he bought the nomination by saying he worked hard for his endorsements.

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POLITICS BY POWERPOINT

While it might be a staple of board rooms and business meetings, PowerPoint made a regular appearance on the campaign trail this spring thanks to Republican Assemblyman Jack Ciattarelli. Ciattarelli toured the state with his presentation, including his five-point plan to overhaul public worker benefits and education funding, among other proposals.

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Contact Catalini at https://www.twitter.com/mikecatalini

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For more on the New Jersey’s governor’s race, go to https://apnews.com/tag/NewJerseyGovernor’sRace

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