School funding, taxes, pensions, pipelines, Chris Christie and President Donald Trump.
All of the above have been debated ad nauseam for several months by the crowded field of candidates running to become New Jersey’s next governor.
Republican and Democratic voters will get their first chance to officially weigh in on Tuesday during the state’s primary elections, which will decide the party nominations for governor as well as a host of other state, county and local offices.
The polls will be open from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Here is a rundown of some of the biggest questions entering the last days before the election:
Will voters show up?
Yes, but judging from recent history, most voters won’t likely have to wait in long lines. Typically, Burlington County’s turnout for the June primary has hovered at close to 10 percent.
In 2008, about 13.5 percent of county voters turned up to vote in the June election, which featured a competitive Republican primary between Medford Mayor Chris Myers and Ocean County Freeholder Jim Kelly for the 3rd Congressional District seat of retiring Congressman Jim Saxton as the big draw. New Jersey’s presidential primaries were held earlier that year in June in hopes of making the state more relevant. The move was reversed in 2012, and only 9.68 percent of voters participated.
Since 2002, the county turnout has been above 10 percent only three other times. In 2009, Christie was embroiled in a GOP primary against conservative Steve Lonegan during his first campaign for governor. In 2005, then-U.S. Sen. Jon S. Corzine was running for the Democratic nomination for governor (he bested James Kelly), and Doug Forrester and Brett Schundler were vying for the Republican nomination (Forrester was victorious but lost to Corzine in the general election).
Turnout in the county reached 11.84 percent in 2002 during a year when state Sen. Diane Allen battled Forrester for the GOP’s nomination for U.S. Senate. Allen won 72 percent of the county’s vote but fell short in the statewide contest.
Expectations are that this year’s primary won’t attract much more than that, as the governor’s race has largely been overshadowed by news from Washington. Recent polls have also shown many voters are still undecided, a possible indication of voter apathy about their choices.
What are the chances of an upset?
On the Democratic side, Phil Murphy, a former Goldman Sachs executive and U.S. ambassador to Germany, is the overwhelming favorite and is almost considered a shoo-in to become the party’s nominee, as he has all 21 county Democratic organizations behind him and the support of key labor unions.
Public polls have consistently given Murphy a substantial lead over his closest competitors, which include former U.S. Treasury Undersecretary Jim Johnson, state Assemblyman John Wisniewski and state Sen. Ray Lesniak.
Ironically, a year ago it was Murphy who was considered the dark horse or spoiler in what was then projected to be a monumental North vs. South political battle between Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop and Senate President Stephen Sweeney.
The expected showdown never materialized. Fulop ended up bowing out of the race and endorsed Murphy. Sweeney soon followed, as the North Jersey establishment and labor united behind the former Wall Street executive, who has loaned over $15 million of his personal fortune to his campaign and spent over $20 million.
Nothing is certain, but Republicans are already focusing on Murphy as the likely nominee, among them Christie, who compared Murphy to Corzine, who also entered politics after amassing a fortune at Goldman Sachs.
“The only difference between Phil Murphy and Jon Corzine is that Phil Murphy doesn’t have a beard,” Christie said Thursday during a news conference. “They both bought the nomination; they both have no experience.”
Murphy last week tried to curb claims that he’s buying votes by promising he would accept public funds and abide by spending limits in the general election.
The Republican race is expected to be the closer of the gubernatorial contests and the more likely to produce an upset.
Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno is favored, but Assemblyman Jack Ciattarelli has managed to turn heads and keep the race competitive. The most recent public poll gave Guadagno a 19-point edge, but Ciattarelli insists his internal polls show him within striking distance and poised to pull off an upset.
“Our internal polling is showing an entirely different story and one that’s very positive for our campaign. And my guess is that her internal polling is telling her the same thing. Otherwise she wouldn’t be continuing with an overtly negative campaign that is lying about Jack Ciattarelli,” he said Thursday during a campaign stop at Burlington County Republican headquarters in Mount Holly.
To pull off the upset, Ciattarelli will need to overcome Guadagno’s party support and “county line” ballot position in Ocean, Monmouth and Bergen, which are among the largest counties for Republican voters.
Ciattarelli will also need to perform extraordinarily well in Burlington and other counties where he was endorsed and holds the advantageous county line ballot spot.
Guadagno’s campaign is not conceding any Republican votes. Her final weekend schedule includes a stop in Burlington County, where she will attend a church service at the Fellowship Alliance Church in Medford.
What about the legislative races?
Besides the governor’s race, all 120 seats in the Legislature are up for grabs in November, although in most legislative districts the incumbents are running uncontested on Tuesday.
One of the exceptions is in the 7th Legislative District, where Moorestown pediatrician Jennifer Chuang is challenging for the Democratic nomination for one of the two Assembly seats against incumbent Herb Conaway, of Delran, and his running mate, Carol Murphy, of Mount Laurel.
The race has remained largely low-key, but has taken on new importance in the final weeks due to the ongoing political battle over the Assembly speaker’s position between the chamber’s current leader, Vincent Prieto, of Secaucus, and Assemblyman Craig Coughlin, of Fords.
Coughlin announced that he has the support of 26 of the Assembly’s 52 Democrats, as well as Murphy and Yvonne Lopez, who is running as a Democrat in Coughlin’s 19th Legislative District. Both Democrats are heavily favored to win Assembly seats in November. Should Murphy trip up in the primary, it could potentially upset Coughlin’s chances of becoming speaker.
Where are the hot local races?
Two competitive local primaries to watch are in Westampton, where Mayor Andre Daniels is running for re-election off the county line with running mate Machell Pettis against fellow Democrats Wilbur Williams and Linda Hynes, who have the top ballot position.
Daniels is seeking a fourth term in office, but has fallen out of favor with some Democrats after voting with the two Republicans on the Township Committee on several issues.
One wrinkle in the race: Williams has stated publicly that he isn’t interested in serving and is running merely as a placeholder for the party during the primary. If he’s successful on Tuesday, the party will be able to replace him for the general election.
In addition to Westampton, there are competitive Democratic primaries in Beverly, Florence and Willingboro and GOP primaries in Cinnaminson, Hainesport, Mansfield and Woodland.
Cinnaminson’s race is the Republicans’ first competitive local primary in 50 years and pits Mayor Anthony Minniti and running mate June Neuman against Ernest McGill and Ryan Horner.
Hainesport’s GOP contest has also garnered attention. It features incumbents Tony Porto and Michael Dickinson against challengers Ted Costa and Lee Schneider.
There’s also Willingboro’s Democratic primary, in which Mayor Chris Walker and Councilman Nathaniel Anderson are running together, despite past public squabbles between the two leaders and an ongoing defamation of character lawsuit Anderson filed against Walker last year. They are being challenged by Arrington Crawford and Harry D. Walker Jr.
New Jersey’s primary election may be overshadowed by the happenings in Washington, but the Garden State is likely to be squarely in the spotlight this fall as it will be one of only two states holding gubernatorial elections (the other is Virginia).
The race is sure to attract national attention and dollars, as it will be pegged as an early bellwether of voters’ political views in the wake of Trump’s surprising election and the several controversies that have dogged him and his administration.
And while congressional midterms are over a year away, Republican Congressman Tom MacArthur is already being targeted by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, and several Democrats have expressed interest in challenging for his 3rd District seat, which represents most of Burlington County and a large section of neighboring Ocean County.
U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez, a Democrat, is also up for re-election next year, and he is also due to stand trial for federal corruption charges in September.
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