“Democrats fully expect to win in November, and I think are looking forward to being able to resolve certain state issues that have reached a stalemate because of Christie’s opposition,” said Ben Dworkin, the director of the Rebovich Institute for New Jersey Politics at Rider University.
Tax increases, marijuana legalization, and investment in health care, education, and environmental protection are all potential agenda items a Democratic legislature might take up—and a Democratic governor might approve.
Polling suggests that the Democratic front-runner, Phil Murphy, is on track to win in November: A Quinnipiac poll from May found Murphy leading Republican front-runner Kim Guadagno by a wide margin of 50 to 25 percent in a general election match-up. Polls have showed Murphy with a double-digit lead over Democratic rivals Jim Johnson and John Wisniewski.
The prospect of Democratic success in New Jersey governor’s race hasn’t completely escaped national notice. In late May, former Vice President Joe Biden called the election “the single most important race in the country in the next three years, before the presidential race,” while campaigning with Murphy. Earlier in the month, The New Republic’s Graham Vyse similarly labeled the election “this year’s most important race for Democrats,” writing: “If Murphy wins, he would be able to enact his agenda immediately, as Democrats control the state legislature”
Despite that, the race has so far received less media coverage nationally than recent special elections, whose outcome would not significantly change the balance of power in Congress. Even in New Jersey, voters seem to be paying little attention to the race. A reporter with NJ.com spoke to voters in Newark, New Jersey on Monday and found many didn’t know the primary election was the next day. “I had no idea,” one woman said.
There are a number of likely explanations for that. Tuesday’s election is only a primary race so there’s less at stake than there will be in the general election. Expensive media markets may have made it difficult for some candidates to boost their name recognition. It’s also possible that voters may be distracted by the steady stream of national news coming out of Washington.
“It seems like people are pre-occupied and somewhat exhausted by everything that’s happening in national politics,” said John Weingart, the associate director of the Eagleton Institute of Politics at Rutgers University. “Normally in New Jersey the governor’s race is the subject of intense discussion among people who pay attention to politics for months leading up to it, but I think one of the reasons that’s not happening is because first, the 2016 campaign and then the first months of the Trump administration have sucked up all the oxygen.”
Low turnout isn’t unusual for New Jersey governor primary races. And that’s expected to be the case again in Tuesday’s primary. Voters may also have waited until late in the race to make up their mind. A poll released at the end of May found that roughly a third of all voters remained undecided as to which candidate will get their vote.