- Associated Press - Saturday, May 27, 2017

TRENTON, N.J. (AP) - A wealthy former diplomat. The state’s No. 2 official. Three legislators. An actor who starred in “Jersey Shore Killer” and others.

When New Jersey Democratic and Republican voters go to the polls in just over a week to pick their party’s standard-bearers in the November contest to succeed GOP Gov. Chris Christie, they’ll have nearly a dozen choices between them.

Voters will pick among 11 candidates - six Democrats and five Republicans. Polls have shown front-runners in both parties, though they also show about half of registered voters are still undecided.

On the Democratic side, the candidates agree on most policy issues: fully funding the pension, rejoining a greenhouse gas initiative and raising taxes on millionaires. The leading Republicans differ a little more sharply over how to overhaul the state’s education funding formula.

New Jersey and Virginia are the only two states with governor’s races this year, and the contests are being watched for any signs of what might come in the 2018 midterm elections.

Christie is term-limited and cannot run a third campaign.

The New Jersey primary is June 6. A closer look at the candidates:


Bill Brennan, 51, is a former Teaneck firefighter who also has a law degree. Brennan was in the spotlight over the last year when he brought a civil case against Christie stemming from the 2013 George Washington Bridge lane closure scandal. Brennan argued that Christie violated the state’s official misconduct law, and a judge initially allowed the complaint to advance before another judge halted the proceedings and the county prosecutor declined to bring charges against Christie.

Supporters’ case for: Brennan, like the other Democrats, is liberal and differentiates himself by promising to return integrity to the state, a reference to his court proceedings against Christie.

Opponents’ case against: Brennan hasn’t been in his opponents’ crosshairs much. His campaign hasn’t raised much cash in a state where advertising is costly.


Jim Johnson, 56, is a former Treasury Department official in Bill Clinton’s administration, who later went on to work for the New York law firm Debevoise & Plimpton. He was little known in New Jersey, where he’s never held office, but his campaign has gained some, moving up in the polls, qualifying for public matching funds and two state-sponsored televised debates.

Supporters’ case for: Johnson casts himself as a candidate of change, promising ethics reform in state government.

Opponents’ case against: Murphy has attacked Johnson over his time at the law firm, accusing him of influence peddling. Johnson responded by counterpunching Murphy over his work at Goldman.


Ray Lesniak, 71, is a long-time state senator from Elizabeth. He has a liberal record including backing gay marriage and environmental issues.

Supporters’ case for: Lesniak has shown commitment to liberal causes over three decades in the Legislature, and he argues that his long career shows he knows how government works.

Opponents’ case against: Lesniak is an insider whose law firm profited from public contracts. Lesniak has defended the firm’s work as “good.”


Phil Murphy, 59, is a wealthy former ambassador to Germany under former President Barack Obama and one-time Goldman Sachs executive. He’s never held elected office but is leading in the polls and has spent about six times more in the race than his rivals. He’s loaned his campaign $15 million.

Supporters’ case for: Murphy has won endorsements from dozens of party officials, labor unions and advocacy groups, who say he’s convinced them he’ll champion their causes. For example, he’s promised public unions he’ll fully fund the pension; he told environmental groups he’ll get the state to 100 percent clean energy by 2050; he’s helped build up the Democratic Party through donations in traditionally Republican areas.

Opponents’ case against: Murphy has a target on his back since he’s the front-runner in polls. The harshest charges against him include claims that he used his wealth to buy endorsements and that he’s come to his liberal views after a career on Wall Street only when it suited his political ambitions. He’s responded that he’s a lifelong liberal and earned the endorsements through hard work.


John Wisniewski, 54, is an Assembly member who assumed office in 1996. An attorney and former state party chairman, Wisniewski co-chaired the legislative committee that investigated the so-called Bridgegate scandal and was U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders’ campaign chairman for New Jersey in 2016.

Supporters’ case for: His backers say Wisniewski - often known as Wiz - is Sanders’ heir in New Jersey. He’s the only Democratic candidate to call for a single-payer health care system financed by the state.

Opponents’ case against: Murphy attacked Wisniewski after a town cut ties with his law firm over pay-to-play violations. Wisniewski said the $1,000 contribution exceeded the $300 limit inadvertently and sought a refund.


Mark Zinna, 56, is a councilman from Tenafly and the owner of a data company in northern New Jersey.

Supporters’ case for: Zinna has centered his campaign on what he says is a rigged political system designed to exclude candidates without much cash and county official support. He’s promised to change that.

Opponents’ case against: Like Brennan, Zinna hasn’t taken much criticism from the leading candidates. He also has struggled to win endorsements and raise cash.


Jack Ciattarelli, 55, has been an Assembly member since 2012. He’s a former Somerset County freeholder and is the owner and publisher of a medical publication. He highlights his business and accounting credentials on the trail and describes himself as “an MBA/CPA.”

Supporters’ case for: Ciattarelli has a clear plan, which he hawks on the trail in a PowerPoint. The plan boils down to overhauling public employee benefits, school funding aid and the tax system, as well as cutting state government and working more closely with the congressional delegation.

Opponents’ case against: Part of Ciattarelli’s tax plan that includes raising income tax rates on millionaires has come under attack, getting him the moniker “High Tax Jack” from his chief rival.


Kim Guadagno, 58, was elected as the state’s first lieutenant governor in 2009 with Christie and re-elected in 2013. She’s a former Monmouth County sheriff and federal prosecutor. Christie tapped her to lead a panel tasked with reducing regulations. She’s the leading GOP candidate in the polls and has more cash on hand than her chief rival.

Supporters’ case for: Guadagno has promised not to raise taxes - the only leading candidate to make that pledge. She’s also getting credit, including from Christie, for the state’s 4.1 percent unemployment rate.

Opponents’ case against: The biggest argument against her is that she’s a continuation of Christie, whose approval is near record lows. She’s distanced herself from him by opposing his statehouse renovation, promising to scrap it on day 1, if elected.


Steve Rogers, 65, is a commissioner in Nutley and former police officer. An Air Force and Navy veteran, he’s been a commentator on Fox News and is one of the race’s loudest supporters of Republican President Donald Trump.

Supporters’ case for: Rogers has cast himself as a law-and-order candidate who promised to oppose the nearly dozen sanctuary cities and counties and said he would call for those violating immigration laws to be prosecuted.

Opponents’ case against: The leading candidates have not attacked Rogers.


Joseph “Rudy” Rullo, 47, owns a landscaping company and has acted in movies, including the 2015 short film “Jersey Shore Killer.” He’s also a vocal supporter of Trump’s.

Supporters’ case for: Rullo has promised to lower property taxes, repeal the 23-cent gas tax hike enacted under Christie and eliminate tolls.

Opponents’ case against: The leading candidates have not attacked Rullo.


Hirsh Singh, 32, is an engineer who works at an Atlantic County-based defense-contracting firm.

Supporters’ case for: Singh casts himself as businessman and outsider with problem-solving skills.

Opponents’ case against: Singh hasn’t been attacked by Guadagno or Ciattarelli.


Follow Catalini at https://twitter.com/mikecatalini

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