TRENTON — Philip D. Murphy, who grew up “middle class on a good day” in the Boston suburbs but found fortune on Wall Street before turning to politics, defeated Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno on Tuesday night to succeed Chris Christie as the next governor of New Jersey.
“Tonight we declare the days of division are over. We will move forward together. This is exactly who we are in New Jersey. We have each other’s backs. To believe in each of us is to believe in all of us,” Murphy said after jumping his way onto the stage to address supporters in Asbury Park's Convention Center.
Murphy’s victory is one of the first statewide by a Democrat since Republican Donald Trump won the presidency. In the only other governor’s race in the country Tuesday night, Democrat Ralph Northam defeated Republican Ed Gillespie in Virginia. Murphy has vowed to lead the charge against Trump and a Republican agenda he views as mean-spirited and divisive.
What does this mean for New Jersey?
Murphy, 60, has outlined a progressive agenda, including a $15 minimum wage, legalization of recreational marijuana, stricter gun laws and the creation of a public bank.
That vision also includes the possibility of making New Jersey a sanctuary state for undocumented immigrants and considering universal health care for residents — two policy ideas he put on the table in response to Republican efforts in Washington, D.C.
The large, looming question for Murphy is how he’ll be able to pay for the grand progressive plans he’s proposed. He acknowledged Tuesday night that it will be a challenge, even with a Democratic Legislature.
“It won't be easy and it certainly won’t be overnight but let there be no doubt, starting here and starting now, New Jersey is coming back,” Murphy said.
Guadagno congratulated Murphy on his win, but promised to keep fighting for conservative values and urged her supporters to do so as well.
"We may have lost the battle but we will win this war in the long run," Guadagno said in her brief remarks.
One of Murphy’s top priorities is the economy. Barring any sudden shift, he will inherit a growing economy and low unemployment rate, but he has said that the growth has been uneven and that long-term unemployment is unacceptably high. In the rare moments during the campaign that he even alluded to his time on Wall Street, Murphy pledged to use his “economic know-how” to fuel a new era of growth and propel New Jersey into a tech-focused future.
While some may see Murphy’s victory as a repudiation of Christie, it also follows a familiar pattern in New Jersey. Voters have elected a Democrat to succeed a two-term Republican governor at every opportunity since New Jersey revised its Constitution in 1947 to create four-year terms and allow governors to run for re-election.
Murphy’s challenge will be to break the other part of that pattern: No Democrat in the last 40 years has won a second term as governor.
Tuesday night’s win capped Murphy’s improbable rise to being elected to one of the most powerful governorships in the country.
Murphy declared his candidacy in May 2016, about six months earlier than most candidates jump in, knowing he was a long shot against an anticipated pair of better-known competitors, Senate President Stephen Sweeney and Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop. But within two weeks last September and October, the “two Steves” surprisingly withdrew from the race without having formally entered it and instantly catapulted Murphy to the front of the pack.
Murphy, spending $20 million from his own pocket, handily defeated five primary opponents for the Democratic nomination last June and turned toward the general election with an air of inevitability thanks to the voting patterns of history, a presumed financial advantage and the mood of the electorate.
He held double-digit leads over Guadagno throughout the general contest and fended off the frequent comparisons to Jon Corzine, the last Democratic governor who, like Murphy, earned millions as an executive at Goldman Sachs.
For Guadagno, the association with Christie proved far more damaging to voters, according to polls. There is some irony that Murphy celebrated his victory at Asbury Park’s Convention Hall.
The Jersey Shore landmark is where Christie reveled in his near-historic re-election four years ago on the strength of Democratic support. But the scandal known as Bridgegate quietly brewed in the background and would ultimately drag down his political aspirations and sink his popularity with New Jersey voters, once at an all-time high, to an irreversible low.
Christie insisted he was not in the front of voters’ minds in this election. But Murphy thrusted him there, especially in the final weeks of the campaign, with advertisements linking Guadagno and Christie to the George Washington Bridge scandal and constantly portraying them as a pair who rewarded wealthy corporations at the expense of the middle class.
And in recent weeks Murphy capitalized on the now-infamous photo of Christie sitting on a state-owned beach that was closed to the public during a government shutdown, telling crowds that he and his running mate, Oliver, “will not go to the beach by ourselves.”
Photos: Phil Murphy wins NJ
As much as Murphy sought to lash Guadagno to Christie, Guadagno attempted to present Murphy as the second coming of Corzine. Murphy, who is friends with Corzine, viewed the comparisons as facile and batted back with a familiar line: his life is a series of chapters, and working on Wall Street is one of them.
Murphy tends to speed through the chapter of his 23 years at Goldman Sachs and linger on what he says is the most important chapter: the first. He grew up the youngest of four children in Newton and Needham, Mass., where his mother was a school secretary and his father, who never graduated from college, found work as a pallbearer and liquor store manager in an itinerant career.
Murphy put himself through college at Harvard, where he acted and sang in the well-known Hasty Pudding Theatricals and considered a career in theater. But because his family had “no money” when he was growing up, Murphy began making decisions with future finances in mind. He graduated with a master’s degree in business from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania and began his career at Goldman Sachs as an intern.
Murphy rose up the ranks of Goldman to become its president in Asia and to lead its operations in Germany. Having made many millions over 23 years at the company, Murphy retired in 2003 and shifted toward politics.
He served as the Democratic National Committee’s finance chairman from 2006 to 2009, developing relationships with the biggest names and power brokers of the party. He was named in 2009 by then-president Barack Obama to serve as the U.S. ambassador to Germany, a consequential and high-profile position he held until 2013.
Soon after, Murphy began laying the groundwork for a gubernatorial run. He started a pair of organizations focusing on jobs, the economy, the middle class — and targeting Chris Christie.
Scenes from Election Day 2017
Follow Dustin Racioppi on Twitter: @dracioppi