With Phil Murphy now sworn-in to another term, the speculation has started.
Will he stick around until mid-January, 2026? (That does seem a long way off, doesn’t it?) After all, two-term governors can get bored when year seven of their eight-year tenure rolls around.
If he doesn’t remain in Trenton, will he run for president?
There is nothing new about presidential talk regarding New Jersey governors. In this case, however, it seems more far-fetched than usual for a number of very logical reasons.
It is true that Murphy just won re-election, thereby earning some acclaim as the first Democrat to be re-elected in more than 40 years. That seems very positive in a vacuum but the blunt reality is quite different.
In a state with an overwhelming Democratic registration advantage, Murphy won by a mere three percent. It’s hard to see such a small victory propelling anyone on the path to the White House.
Let’s compare with Chris Christie, who did indeed run for president. His re-election in 2013 was quite a different story. He won overwhelmingly as a Republican in a Democratic state. That gets the attention of political junkies throughout the country. A narrow win by a Democrat in a Democratic state doesn’t, or at least it doesn’t get positive attention.
Then we have the significant fact that the current president is a Democrat in his first term. Sure, Joe Biden will be 82 in 2024 and it is still uncertain if he will run again. But it’s not as if Murphy sees a truly open seat. That was the case with Christie who ran in 2016 when Barack Obama’s terms were up.
Now we must confront New Jersey or the image of New Jersey.
The state’s image has not been sterling dating back to colonial times when it was seen as a kind of backwater between New York City and Philadelphia.
In modern times, many governors have tried to combat that description.
Then Governor Thomas H. Kean in the 1980’s would say that people are “no longer laughing at New Jersey.”
I recall that during the Christie years, the administration’s mindset was that everyone knew about New Jersey because of the governor’s outspoken and larger than life demeanor.
Just a few days ago during his second inauguration, Murphy and LG Sheila Oliver continued in this vein, proclaiming that no place is better than New Jersey to live and to raise a family.
A lot of this bravado is for hometown consumption. Politicians like telling people things are going well. But part of it also is designed to attract businesses and respect from the outside.
Whether it does that is debatable, but what’s really not in dispute is that New Jerseyans recently seeking the presidency haven’t done very well at all.
Christie in 2016 never got past the New Hampshire primary. So much for the impact of his landslide victory in 2013.
Cory Booker ran for president in 2020 and despite being a charismatic speaker, got no traction at all. He was never really in the race. True, Booker wasn’t a governor, but he was from New Jersey.
Republican Steve Forbes and Democrat Bill Bradley may have done marginally better a few decades ago, but Forbes put many millions of his own money into the race and many probably viewed Bradley more as a basketball player than a guy from Jersey.
Could the problem be the candidates of where they were from? Or a combination of both?
Despite political rhetoric, people around the country may see the state as the home of The Sopranos and Jersey Shore more than anything else. Sad, but maybe true.
Speaking of TV, a segment of Jeopardy has gotten some attention this week. The category centered on New Jersey and the contestants answered correctly when the subject had to do with such things as Atlantic City, the George Washington Bridge and Bon Jovi.
But all were stumped when the answer was the Democratic governor who was just reelected.
It’s only a TV show, but just the same, a telling commentary perhaps on the visibility of New Jersey political leaders.