Groups Backing Murphy Outstrip Those Supporting Ciattarelli

TRENTON, N.J. (AP) — Political contributions from groups backing Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy in this year's election so far outpace those supporting his Republican rival, Jack Ciattarelli, new figures out Wednesday showed.

By far the biggest contributions have come from groups aligned with the New Jersey Education Association and the Democratic Governors Association, according to the Election Law Enforcement Commission. Together, political action committees aligned with these two organizations accounted for the lion's share of spending so far.

In total, outside political groups have spent about $13 million so far, with $5 million coming from a group aligned with the education association, the state's biggest teachers union and a key ally of the governor. A group affiliated with the Democratic Governors Association has spent $3.4 million.

The Republican Governors Association has spent about $410,000, while a group that has backed Ciattarelli expended $71,000.

The spending imbalance in Murphy's favor is also reflected in public polls, which have the first-term governor leading.

Fundraising by the candidates themselves also mirrors this dynamic.

Murphy has brought in $13 million and has $7.3 million cash on hand, compared with a $10 million haul for Ciattarelli with just over $1 million on hand. Ciattarelli, who is still introducing himself to voters, has outspent Murphy so far $9 million to $5.7 million.

Murphy has linked Ciattarelli, a former state Assembly member, to former President Donald Trump at every turn. Trump lost twice in New Jersey, and his presidency saw Democrats make gains in voter registration and in House seats, not to mention Murphy's victory in 2017.

At the center of that strategy is Murphy's attack that Ciattarelli attended a rally in support of Trump's false claims that the 2020 election was stolen from him.

Ciattarelli has said he didn't know the event was focused on that, and has tried to deflect Murphy's Trump-centered attacks with humor.

Ciattarelli has put lowering taxes front and center. It's an evergreen issue in the state, which has nation-leading property tax rates. Murphy responds that he has increased state aid to schools, which lowers pressure on school districts considering property tax increases.

Ciattarelli has also sought to put the governor's handling of COVID-19 under a microscope, pointing especially at the roughly 8,500 people in nursing and veterans homes who have died.

Despite that, polls have shown the governor getting support for his handling of the outbreak from around three-fifths of people, even as they say he shares blame for some of the deaths.

Mail-in ballots are already being returned by voters in the contest. Early voting in person is Oct. 23-31 for the first time this year. Election Day is Nov. 2.

Also on Wednesday, Murphy said during an unrelated news conference he signed an executive order raising the amount nonpartisan poll workers will be paid this year to $300, up from $200.