New Jersey voters get their first chance on Tuesday to decide whom they want to lead the state after Gov. Christie completes his tumultuous tenure in January.
The candidates hoping to succeed Christie, a Republican, spent the last day before the primary election campaigning across the state, making their final pitches to voters in diners and rallies from Bergen County to Atlantic City.
The Democratic front-runner is Phil Murphy, a former longtime executive at the Wall Street investment firm Goldman Sachs and an ambassador to Germany under President Barack Obama.
Murphy, 59, of Middletown, Monmouth County, is running against former U.S. Treasury Undersecretary Jim Johnson, 56, of Montclair, Essex County; Assemblyman John S. Wisniewski, 54, of Sayreville, Middlesex County; and State Sen. Raymond J. Lesniak, 71, of Elizabeth, Union County.
Republican Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno, 58, of Monmouth Beach, Monmouth County, has led polls in the GOP race. Her main challenger, Assemblyman Jack Ciattarelli, 55, of Hillsborough, Somerset County, argues that her association with Christie will drag down the party in November.
Voters' discontent with Christie — his approval rating has hovered around 20 percent for months — are expected to help make the Democratic nominee the favorite to win the general election. Registered Democrats outnumber registered Republicans, and in recent decades, two-term New Jersey governors have been succeeded by candidates of the opposing party.
The Democrats generally agree on the issues, saying, for example, they would raise taxes in order to fully fund schools and public workers' pensions. The main point of contention is which candidate would best advocate for progressive values to counterbalance President Trump and the GOP Congress.
In the Republican contest, Guadagno has targeted Ciattarelli over a proposed income tax increase on the state's highest earners to pay for other tax cuts, while Ciattarelli has attacked Guadagno's "extreme liberal" plan to rejoin a regional cap-and-trade program to address climate change.
Gubernatorial candidates who did not qualify for the state-sanctioned debates include Democrats Bill Brennan and Mark Zinna, and Republicans Steven Rogers, Joseph Rullo, and Hirsh Singh.
If recent election years are any guide, voter turnout will be low. Since 1997, turnout for gubernatorial primaries has not exceeded 14 percent, according to state Division of Elections data.
Primaries will also be held Tuesday for the Senate and Assembly; all 120 legislative seats are up for election in November. On the local level, voters will nominate candidates for mayor of Atlantic City, Camden, and Gloucester Township, and for council in Cherry Hill and Gloucester Township.
Primary voting is restricted to registered members of each party. Unaffiliated voters may declare party affiliation, and thus vote in one of the primaries, through Tuesday.