New Jersey's Murphy echoes Sanders in
Democratic bid for governor
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[October 23, 2017]
By Joseph Ax
EDISON, N.J. (Reuters) - Phil Murphy, a
wealthy former Goldman Sachs investment banker, might seem an unlikely
champion of the working and middle classes.
But New Jersey's Democratic candidate for governor, who leads Republican
Lieutenant Governor Kim Guadagno by double digits in polls, has pushed
to increase taxes for corporations and the rich to pay for a plethora of
populist policy proposals: tuition-free community college, increased
school funding and tax credits for families.
His race, one of two gubernatorial campaigns in 2017, offers an early
opportunity ahead of next year's bonanza of congressional and governor's
races for Democrats to weigh how to win in the era of Republican
President Donald Trump.
With Republican Governor Chris Christie's record-low approval ratings
dragging down Guadagno's campaign, Murphy, a 60-year-old who has never
held office, has pushed a decidedly liberal agenda that would put his
state at the center of his party's resistance to the president's
"A lot of people assumed that after the Democratic primary was over, he
would pivot more to the center - we haven't seen that happen," said
Brigid Callahan Harrison, a political science professor at Montclair
State University in New Jersey.
Guadagno, 58, portrays Murphy as an elitist millionaire - he has spent
more than $16 million of his money on his run - and said he has no plan
to finance his lofty goals.
"I will lower your taxes, and Phil Murphy will raise them," she said
last week at the close of their final debate.
Murphy's stance reflects the national party's leftward shift, following
Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders' insurgent primary campaign last year
against eventual presidential nominee Hillary Clinton.
Like Sanders, Murphy has focused his message on a "fairer" economy,
vowing to help the middle, not the moneyed, class. He highlights his
working-class childhood as proof he understands financial struggle.
He has backed a $15 minimum wage, proposed a public bank to provide
low-interest loans to residents and promised to force "corporations,
hedge funds and the wealthiest among us" to pay their fair share.
"He seems like a hardworking guy who can relate to hardworking guys,"
said Ed Coryell Jr., a carpenter who attended a union rally in Edison
for Murphy earlier this month. "We look for people who are going to
create jobs for our members."
Murphy also has woven more traditional Democratic social issues into his
campaign, even as he embraces liberal causes such as legalizing
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Phil Murphy speaks during the First Stand Rally in Newark, N.J.,
U.S. January 15, 2017. REUTERS/Stephanie Keith/File Photo
"Progressive means a lot of things, but I promise you it means at
least three things," Murphy said at a rally on Thursday with former
President Barack Obama, under whom he served as ambassador to
Germany from 2009 to 2013.
"We will fund Planned Parenthood again," he said. "We will sign
sensible gun safety laws to keep our communities safe. And we will
do something about climate change."
Most notably, Murphy has said he would extend protections for
illegal immigrants, turning New Jersey into a "sanctuary state."
Guadagno seized on that issue, airing a television commercial that
said Murphy "will have the backs of deranged murderers."
"Phil Murphy is even to the left of Bernie Sanders," Guadagno
campaign spokesman Ricky Diaz said. "Phil Murphy is out of touch
with middle class families who want to make the state safer and more
Though he has run to the left, Murphy has strong backing from the
Democratic establishment, with Obama, Clinton and former vice
presidents Joe Biden and Al Gore all campaigning with him this
By contrast, Guadagno, who is trailing badly in fundraising, has
received minimal support from national Republican leaders.
There is little question that Murphy's liberal positions have been
buoyed by the headwinds Guadagno faces, given Christie's and Trump's
That could mean Murphy's campaign is not a perfect blueprint for
other Democratic candidates, some analysts said.
"I think a lot of people will turn to New Jersey and say, 'Democrats
have to go progressive,'" said Matthew Hale, a political science
professor at Seton Hall University in South Orange, New Jersey. "But
I would be very wary of Democrats trying to take a page out of the
Phil Murphy playbook in any other place."
(Reporting by Joseph Ax; Editing by Colleen Jenkins and Nick
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