By Daniel Israel and Mark Koosau
Another election year in Hudson County has gone by, and with temperatures cooling down both politically and literally after all the commotion, people are looking into the numbers and the story they tell.
This year’s elections included the New Jersey governor’s race and several high profile municipal elections in Hudson County. Turnout statewide was higher than it was in 2017, but experts have been trying to make sense of a gubernatorial race that was closer than expected.
Gov. Phil Murphy, a Democrat who was considered a shoo-in for a second term, narrowly won reelection over former Assemblyman Jack Ciattarelli, the Republican nominee. In Hudson County, one of the heaviest Democratic strongholds in the state, the governor got 88,066 votes, almost identical to the 88,271 votes he got when he was first elected.
Ciattarelli lost Hudson County by a wide margin, but he got more votes here than the previous Republican nominee in 2017, former Lt. Governor Kim Guadagno, getting 30,443 votes to Guadagno’s 19,236.
According to data from the Hudson County Clerk’s office, Murphy got the most Hudson votes in municipalities like Jersey City, Hoboken, Union City, North Bergen, West New York and Guttenberg. Ciattarelli’s support was mainly in the northern parts of Kearny and Secaucus, and portions of Bayonne.
Multiple observers, ranging from party members to political scientists, gave The Hudson Reporter their takeaways on why the vote went the way it did.
Phil Swibinski, a spokesperson for the Hudson County Democratic Organization, said that the county party is pleased it helped Murphy become the first Democratic governor to win reelection since Brendan Byrne in 1977.
“I think particularly here in one of the most urban and Democratic counties, getting a large margin of victory in Hudson County is really critical to statewide candidates,” he said.
Swibinski acknowledged that this year was a tough year for Democrats nationwide, citing frustration from the pandemic over school closings, public health mandates over vaccinations and masking, and economic fallout, which he believes led locally to Ciattarelli getting more votes.
“That certainly motivated a lot of people to vote against the party,” he said.
“Ciattarelli not being so closely associated with [former Gov. Chris] Christie certainly put him in a stronger position than Guadagno,” he also said.
Hudson County Democratic Chairwoman Amy DeGise, who won election for an at-Large City Council seat in Jersey City this year, declined to comment for this story.
Republicans chime in
Republicans had other ideas as to why they did better in Hudson this year.
Kennith Gonzalez, deputy executive director of the Hudson County Republican Party, said they tailored their messaging for local voters.
“We knew that in Hudson County, we needed to do our part to either secure the victory or make sure that this was going to be as close as possible,” said Gonzalez. “So we worked with the campaign on a different message than what we would do in the 2020 Presidential Election or something like that.”
“It was very important to increase turnout,” continued Gonzalez. “To do that in Hudson County, with such a high Hispanic population, we needed to highlight the issues most important to that community. In a gubernatorial election, which have historically low turnout, we needed to tell the Hispanic community who Governor Murphy really is.”
Jennifer Zinone, coordinator for the Ciatterelli campaign in Hudson, said the increased turnout was due to grassroots activism in the county. “It was a lot of grassroots work, talking to people talking about our message, what Republicans really stand for, and Jack making an effort,” said Zinone.
Joshua Sotomayor-Einstein, heavily involved with the Hispanic Republicans of North Jersey and the Hudson County Young Republicans, agreed the grassroots campaign helped Ciatterelli statewide, but took shots at the county GOP.
“Hudson County is lacking the county Republican infrastructure because our county chairperson works for the Democrats,” said Sotomayor-Einstein. “The grassroots campaign was Young Republicans. It was volunteers in the Freedom of Liberty Movement. It wasn’t the Republican Party or Jose Arango. He just works to preserve the interests of the Democratic Party. When it comes to the grassroots and it comes to the campaign, we were knocking on doors and canvassing, getting the message out there with social media in English and Spanish.”
Gonzalez said that Republicans campaigned in Spanish and English to break language barriers, targeting Hispanics with two core issues.
“Murphy has blatantly, many times, supported late term abortion, an issue that Hispanics are not too comfortable with here,” said Gonzalez. “Murphy is also teaching children in schools about issues that are not safe or healthy for young children to learn. We saw through canvassing, phone banking, direct mail, and the campaign for Ciattarelli, in conjunction with the Hudson County Republican Committee, that this was resonating.”
Ciatterelli campaigned in Hudson County and that helped, according to Zinone. “He came here multiple times, he walked around, he met with people, and I think that makes a huge difference in Republican,” said Zinone. “Usually in the past, they have pretty much ignored Hudson County.”
Gonzalez agreed. “Towns such as Secaucus and Kearny have many middle-class voters that came out, especially Republicans, for President Trump last year and this year they said, ‘I don’t know.’ But with a person as far left and divisive as Governor Murphy, they knew that they had to come out and Jack was the perfect candidate.”
Sotomayor-Einstein added, “These are working class people that understand that actions have consequences, either because they’ve been living under Democratic dominance for decades and they want to try something new, or because they or their relatives came from a totalitarian regime and understand that higher taxes, higher cost of living, and more government spending gets you a slower economy and larger government that can dictate your life to you.”
Pandemic response and Trump factor
According to Gonzalez, Murphy’s pandemic response was a factor that affected turnout statewide as well as in Hudson County.
“A lot of immigrants come here in search of freedom, and that includes medical freedom,” said Gonzalez. “But what we saw Murphy do is say these young kids have to wear a mask in school and you have to get a vaccine if you want to go into work in certain places. Usually people don’t come out and vote, especially here in Hudson County, because they feel that their vote is not going to make a difference for the Republicans. But when you have issues that affect people’s daily lives, people are going to go to the ballot box when they’ve had enough.”
“COVID added to it, but I started seeing that turnover before that,” Zinone said. “I ran for Congress here in the 10th Congressional District in 2020 before COVID hit, when I was able to go door to door and speak with people. They were already angry with the direction that the state was going.”
Zinone wasn’t sure if the space Ciattarelli put between himself and Donald Trump helped or hurt the gubernatorial candidate. “That’s where things get tricky, because he was bashed by a lot of Trump supporters for distancing himself from Trump. Then most of Murphy’s signs didn’t even say his name on them, they said ‘Stop the Trump Team.”
Gonzalez said, “While Phil Murphy was focused on bringing Jack down with Trump, Jack was focused on bringing himself up with the issues that really matter. He energized the voters who probably would have stayed home.”
Building on momentum
He added, “As we see these younger professionals moving into Hudson County at a faster pace from New York City, it’s more important every year to include younger people. That’s something that our Chairman, Jose Arango, sees very clearly and is doing very well. As taxes keep going up and as Democrats keep doing their thing, people are going to be voting for us more and more each year until we’re able to really compete out here.”
Zinone said, “Outreach and having active Republicans in the county for a change made a difference. I’ve learned from the inside, they actually are hurting. So we need to take steps and make sure that people realize that they have a voice and an opportunity to make a difference. Otherwise, it’s going to be too expensive to live here.”
Sotomayor-Einstein added, “Young Republicans and other grassroots groups across the state definitely want to build on the growth, but not just for the next gubernatorial election. We need to build on those victories and then really work for the next election, which is the 2022 midterm elections in Congress.”
State politics and incumbent difficulties
Lindsay Cormack, an assistant professor of Political Science at Stevens Institute of Technology, shared a similar sentiment on how COVID affected state politics.
“Most of the decisions on how we did schools, businesses and earlier travel quarantines from people outside of the Tri-State area is all state politics,” she said. “It is not surprising that with the hypersalience of state politics, you have greater turnout for people who are unhappy with the way that that went down, which are mostly those within the Republican Party.”
Murphy also encountered some of the difficulties with running for reelection, according to political experts. “In Murphy’s first drive, he’s the new kid on the block,” said Fran Moran, a professor at the Department of Political Science at New Jersey City University. “But now he had a record to defend.”
Moran gave credit to Ciattarelli’s campaign focusing on that, including a number of ads that targeted a quote from Murphy on taxes. “That does strike a chord in a lot of New Jersey voters,” said Moran.
“Having to defend a record that the incumbent has to do, it’s not surprising that Ciattarelli was able to pick up some seats, because as a governor, you do things that’s going to alienate some folks, and they’ll go the other way,” said Moran.
For updates on this and other stories, check www.hudsonreporter.com and follow us on Twitter @hudson_reporter. Daniel Israel can be reached at email@example.com. Mark Koosau can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or his Twitter @snivyTsutarja.