The most fervent supporters of former President Donald Trump fell short Tuesday in their underdog bids for the GOP gubernatorial nomination in New Jersey, but left with some bragging rights after collecting a sizable share of the vote.
Former State Assemblyman Jack Ciattarelli proved to be a better fit for the deep-blue state after navigating a tricky four-way primary battle in which he was branded a “Never Trumper” and his rivals touted their devotion to the former president.
Bolstered by a massive fundraising advantage and broad support from the state’s GOP establishment, Mr. Ciattarelli was declared the winner by the New York Times and other news outlets about two hours after the polls closed at 8 p.m.
With 66% of the vote counted, Mr. Ciattarelli had 49.1% of the vote.
Phil Rizzo, a pastor, and Hirsh Singh, an engineer, were locked in a tight battle for second place after battling it out for the Trump mantle during the race.
Mr. Rizzo had 25.4% of the vote, and Mr. Singh had 22.4%
Former Franklin Mayor Brian Levine was lagging far behind with 3.1% of the vote.
Mr. Ciattarelli moves on to face Gov. Phil Murphy. The Democrat did not face a primary and remains popular in the state.
Mr. Ciattarelli’s focus on state’s high property taxes and Mr. Murphy’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic proved to be enough to overcome his complicated history with Mr. Trump in the primary.
In 2015, Mr. Ciattarelli called the tycoon and then-presidential candidate a “charlatan.”
“Sitting silently and allowing him to embarrass our country is unacceptable,” Mr. Ciattarelli said at the time. “He is not fit to be president of the United States.”
He also did not vote for Mr. Trump in 2016.
Mr. Rizzo and Mr. Singh, meanwhile, wrapped themselves in Trumpism.
Mr. Singh backed Mr. Trump’s claim that he won the 2020 election and went as far as to say the “election was stolen in New Jersey in 2020.”
Despite the fawning, Mr. Trump stayed on the sidelines.
President Biden easily defeated Mr. Trump in New Jersey last year, carrying close to 60% of the vote.
Mr. Trump, however, involved himself in this year’s other gubernatorial race, tossing his support in Virginia behind Republican Glenn Youngkin, a political newcomer and former private equity CEO.
Mr. Youngkin learned Tuesday that he will face off against former Gov. Terry McAuliffe after the Democrat cruised to victory in his primary race.
Mr. McAuliffe is seeking to become only the second governor to be popularly elected twice in the state. Virginia bars sitting governors from re-election but they can seek non-consecutive terms.
The gubernatorial races in New Jersey and Virginia will serve as testing ground for political messages ahead of the 2022 midterm elections. They also will serve as a referendum on Mr. Biden’s policies and overall performance, as well as on Mr. Trump’s influence on the GOP.
Mr. Ciattarelli faces an uphill battle against Mr. Murphy in New Jersey, according to a Rutgers-Eagleton Poll released a survey Tuesday that found 52% of registered voters say they would vote for Mr. Murphy compared to 26% who lined up behind Mr. Ciattarelli.
“New Jersey has seen some uncompetitive gubernatorial races the past couple of cycles, and this race does not seem to be the exception right now,” said Ashley Koning, an assistant research professor and director of the Eagleton Center for Public Interest Polling (ECPIP) at Rutgers University–New Brunswick.
“Murphy currently has a stronger lock on his base than Ciattarelli and beats him among independents right now by a double-digit lead,” she said.
History, however, could be on Mr. Ciattarelli’s side as New Jersey hasn’t reelected a Democratic governor since 1977.