MONROE – Phil Murphy and Jack Ciattarelli were to be in the same room tonight, but things didn’t really turn out that way.
Adhering to tradition, the state’s Business and Industry Association invited both the governor and the GOP candidate to an employee reception at the Forsgate Country Club from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m.
This event is advertised as the first time the two gubernatorial candidates will be in the same locale.
They both did show up. But not together.
Ciattarelli was there early and made the rounds, shaking hands and talking to the 300 or so people in the room. But he said he had an event in Bergen County this evening that he could not miss. That’s understandable, one supposes. For Ciattarelli to win, he needs to do well in the state’s largest county.
Instead of speaking to the crowd, the GOP candidate spoke via video.
That more or less left the field to Murphy himself.
The governor said New Jersey is in a “vastly better place” than it was when he was first elected in 2017.
That’s an interesting take.
Ciattarelli already has been using the old Ronald Reagan line, asking residents if they’re better off now than they were four years ago.
Murphy bases his assessment on a number of things, including a much rosier financial picture.
Helped by a huge amount of federal aid, the governor talked about expanding rebate and tax credit programs and making large and unprecedented payments into the state pension system.
He also contended that investments the state has made, or is planning to make, in education and infrastructure are luring corporations to New Jersey. He specifically cited plans of Lockheed Martin to expand operations in Burlington County.
As for COVID, Murphy said, “In true Jersey fashion, we have dropped the hammer on this virus.”
This will be another issue.
Ciattarelli in his video said Murphy kept the state closed for too long, resulting in one of three small businesses shutting down.
Murphy spoke about small businesses as well, saying that nearly $1 billion in state and federal aid is available to help those hurt by the pandemic.
Fielding a few questions, the governor told the owner of a nearby flower shop that help is indeed available for those who seek it.
Ciattarelli’s video included questions from an NJBIA official.
The Republican was asked about a recent FDU poll that showed Murphy with a double-digit lead.
Ciattarelli was undaunted, saying he has “great faith” in the state’s voters to swing his way.
He doesn’t need them all; only 50.1 percent of them.