Murphy's law: 1st gov candidate talks to NJ Dems
The first day of the Democratic National Convention kicked off Monday as New Jersey's delegation heard from a slate of speakers about bringing together the party to beat Donald Trump come November.
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TINICUM, Pa. - In the first few weeks of his campaign for governor, Phil Murphy spoke Monday of uniting the Democratic Party both nationally and at home.
Setting the stage for what's expected to be a heated race for governor, Phil Murphy touted both his commitment to "having the backs" of New Jerseyans and got in a few digs at sitting Gov. Chris Christie, before New Jersey's delegation to the Democratic National Convention.
"He jets around the country, completely checked out of begin governor, while we pick up the tab," Murphy said. "Let's not forget what he told a national TV audience last week. 'The job I want is the one I have: The chairman of Trump's transition.'
"Last time I checked, Gov. Christie already has a full-time job and a title," Murphy said. "However, if he prefers being Donald Trump's personal valet, I don't think many of our fellow residents —certainly not in this room — would mind if he decided to skip out early and give the job of governor to someone who would actually govern the state of New Jersey."
Murphy is the only declared candidate in the 2017 gubernatorial election, with a crowded Democratic field including Senate President Steve Sweeney, D-Gloucester, Jersey City Mayor Steve Fulop and other legislators currently weighing their options.
Both Fulop and Sweeney are scheduled to speak to delegates at their Tuesday and Wednesday morning breakfast meetings.
"I'm the only declared candidate and my hope is the election will be tomorrow," Murphy joked in an interview after his remarks on Monday morning.
Murphy, a Middletown resident, has never held elected office. He comes from the private sector, a 23-year career at Goldman Sachs. But the political connections are there: He served as the U.S. ambassador to Germany from 2009 to 2013, after three years as the Democratic National Committee's finance chairman.
"My background and experience are central to why I'm a Democrat," said Murphy, a Middletown resident. "I worked hard, I got lucky and put myself through college and grad school. I stated at the ground floor and worked my way up, learning how economies grow and create jobs. But I would not have succeeded if not for all those who have my back."
It's become Murphy's campaign slogan, plastered on the posters hanging around the third floor atrium of the Renaissance Philadelphia Airport Hotel: "A governor who has our back."
Democrat Phil Murphy launches campaign to succeed term-limited Chris Christie as governor of New Jersey
But there may be a snag in Murphy's candidacy tied to his pre-politics days.
The last governor to enter politics from Wall Street was Gov. Jon Corzine, a former CEO of Goldman Sachs. And while he was able to almost entirely self-fund his Senate and gubernatorial campaigns, his wide unpopularity near the end of his single term may scare voters away from another Wall Street executive.
"Breaking out of the Corzine shadow — whether it's deserved or not — is going to be the biggest problem for him," said Patrick Murray, director of the Monmouth University Polling Institute. "If he's successful with that, he could be pretty successful in a primary situation."
Murphy's easiest way to a viable candidacy is to seize an opening in North Jersey, which "hasn't coalesced" around Fulop "as much as he wanted," Murray said.
Over the next few months, Murphy's chief goal will be to win over county Democratic chairs in an attempt to gain more financial resources and better ballot positioning in a primary battle.
"At this stage in the race, the opinions that really matter the most are from about 10,000 different Democratic committee members, activists and party leaders," he said. "That's who you have to work for. That's why he's at breakfasts like this."
But Murphy's financial experience hasn't come up when speaking with regular voters, only political insiders, Murphy said. And just because they came from the same Wall Street firm — Fulop worked there, as well — doesn't mean they're the same person, he said.
"Derek Jeter and A-Rod wore the same uniform, but they're not the same guys," said Murphy, referring to the New York Yankees players. "It's the same as saying, 'yet another Hudson County guy' or 'yet another state senator.' I want people to focus on me and what I bring to the party, if I'm the right guy to face the challenges."
Don't forget your roots
Murphy's 20-minute remarks were well-received by delegates, who gave him a standing ovation as he exited the stage.
"I thought Mr. Murphy’s speech was very good, very on point," said John Currie, the state's Democratic chairman. "The failure of Chris Christie and his policies in taking care of the middle class and the poor and the woman of this state ... I think he was right on point with his remarks this morning."
"I haven't met one person who doesn't like him or respect what he's done. Maybe that's because he's not in office, but he's certainly shown that he has the record — professionally and politically —to take the position if it's available to him," said delegate Eric Brophy, president of the Wall school board.
But not everyone's sold on the Middletown resident. Currie is yet to endorse a candidate. Asked about Murphy's candidacy, Essex County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo, a longtime Democratic power broker, said "he's new to the scene but has a lot of money."
"I like Phil Murphy, but between all the people who might run for governor, it's a challenge," said Joe Novick, a delegate from Flemington. "He's certainly willing to write checks, which is very good, but there are also candidates who have very deep roots in the Democratic party. In New Jersey, that's extremely important."
Mike Davis: 732-643-4223; firstname.lastname@example.org.