While the 2025 gubernatorial election in New Jersey is still more than two years away, candidates for the Republican and Democratic nomination have already begun to jockey for position being vacated by the term limited incumbent, Governor Phil Murphy.
According to a new poll from Fairleigh Dickinson University released this morning, 11th District Congresswoman Mikie Sherill, First Lady Tammy Murphy and Newark Mayor Ras Baraka have the highest favorability ratings among Democrats, while on the Republican side, 2021 Republican nominee Jack Ciattarelli and talk show host Bill Spadea are the (very) early favorites.
While Republicans had a competitive primary in the 2021 race, Democrats in the state who have had their sights on Drumthwacket, will have their first opening since the 2017 race.
“Right now, the race on the Democratic side is wide open,” said Dan Cassino, a professor of Government and Politics at FDU, and the director of the poll.
“There are a lot of candidates who have been biding their time and waiting for their chance, and this it.”
Former State Senate President Steve Sweeney, who lost his seat in a surprise upset, has already declared his candidacy for governor in 2025, and gotten the support of the state’s Building Trades Union.
Others, like Jersey City Mayor Steve Fulop and Newark Mayor Ras Baraka have publicly expressed interest in running.
However, the race is far from set, and a number of names are being discussed in political circles, including the current lieutenant governor, Sheila Oliver, Rep. Sherrill, and even current first lady Tammy Murphy.
Both Fulop and Sweeney were seen as strong challengers for the Democratic nomination in 2017, but neither formally announced their candidacy, declining to challenge Governor Murphy for the nomination.
Among Democrats, First lady Tammy Murphy has the highest name recognition (73 percent), with Sweeney, Baraka, Oliver and Sherrill in the second tier.
Fulop trails, with just 34 percent name recognition among Democrats statewide.
Of course, name recognition isn’t everything: more important, perhaps, is the percent of party members with favorable and unfavorable views of a potential candidate.
By this measure, Congresswoman Sherill has a narrow lead over other contenders.
Only 41 percent of Democrats say that they recognize her, but 28% of Democrats statewide have a favorable view of the third term Member of the House, and only one percent have a negative view of her.
In contrast, 73 percent of Democrats have heard of First Lady Murphy, but just 27 percent report a favorable view, and 43 percent don’t have an opinion.
Sweeney is the most polarizing figure among Democrats: while 55 percent recognize his name, almost the same percentage of Democrats like (19 percent) and dislike (16 percent) him.
“Sherrill has an early lead in favorability, and she’s proven herself as a world class fundraiser,” said Cassino.
“But New Jersey is still often driven by history and connections, and that could give insiders like Sweeney or Oliver an edge.”
On the Republican side, the 2021 Republican nominee, Jack Ciattarelli, outperformed expectations in the last governor’s race, and has announced that he will again seek the party’s nomination.
There are also a number of other Republican names that have been bandied about, ranging from talk show host and former congressional nominee Bill Spadea to current office holders like Mike Testa and State Senator Holly Schepisi.
“Ciattarelli did better than anyone was expecting in 2021, so it makes sense that he wants another shot” said Cassino.
“But in an open race, there are going to be some big guns who want the nomination, and Ciattarelli is going to have a fight on his hands if he wants to get it again.”
Among these candidates, Ciattarelli has the advantage of having been a recent nominee: 76 percent of Republicans say that they recognize him, and 47 percent have a favorable view of him.
Close behind him, though, are talk show host Spadea and State Senator Mike Testa.
Spadea has 37 percent name recognition among Republicans, though 14 percent of Republicans say that they recognize the fictional candidates, so the true figure is about 23 percent.
Rounding out the list of potential Republican nominees is State Senator Schepisi, who is in her first full term in the upper house of the legislature, having previously served in the State Assembly. She has just 22 percent name recognition among Republicans statewide, so only about 8 percent actually know who she is.
“Schepisi has made an impression on Republicans in Trenton, helped by the fact that she was against vaccine mandates before it was fashionable,” said Cassino. “But that hasn’t yet reached the broader Republican electorate.”