Phil Murphy Is Elected Governor of New Jersey, in a Lift for Democrats

ASBURY PARK, N.J. — New Jersey became the seventh state in the country where Democrats now control the legislative and executive branches with the election on Tuesday of Philip D. Murphy, a former Wall Street banker with no experience in office, as its 56th governor, according to The Associated Press.

The decisive victory by Mr. Murphy, who transformed himself from a Goldman Sachs executive into a progressive Democrat to match the direction of an anxious political party, gives Democrats a badly needed lift and a governor who has vowed to make his state a bulwark against the policies of President Trump.

Mr. Murphy’s ascendancy also brings an emphatic end to the tumultuous eight-year reign of Gov. Chris Christie, a Republican who was once considered a viable contender for the White House but who leaves office as one of the country’s least popular governors.

Still, despite Mr. Murphy’s skillfully managed campaign and ambitious agenda, it remains to be seen whether he can deliver on his many promises.

Mr. Murphy, 60, easily defeated Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno, the Republican candidate and Mr. Christie’s second-in-command, by a margin of 56 to 43 percent, with 98 percent of precincts reporting, after a contentious election that never was really in doubt — Ms. Guadagno had struggled to move out of the shadow of her deeply disliked boss

Mr. Murphy, who promoted a liberal future for New Jersey with a $15 minimum wage, the legalization of marijuana and a vow to stand up to Mr. Trump, represents a shift in the state’s reputation for electing moderate governors and makes it a deeper shade of blue.

In his victory speech, Mr. Murphy made it clear that he believed voters had sent a message meant to reverberate beyond the state.

“We will stand firm for New Jersey’s values, and push back against the mean winds blowing at us from Washington,” he told jubilant supporters in Asbury Park. “This is the first major election since Donald Trump was elected. Tonight, New Jersey sent an unmistakable message to the entire nation — we are better than this.”

With a win propelled by the working class and urban neighborhoods of northern New Jersey, Mr. Murphy’s election also amounts to a repudiation of the hard-nosed, blunt conservative politics of Mr. Christie, whose tell-it-like-it-is personality often defined New Jersey on the national stage.

In Mr. Murphy, voters selected Mr. Christie’s opposite — an energetic politician who yearns to be liked, embraces unions, supports gun control and has been open about his willingness to raise taxes on the wealthy to help fix the state’s floundering economy.

But as an untested elected official, Mr. Murphy must prove that he can transform his experience on Wall Street and as the American ambassador to Germany — a position he won largely because he was a major Democratic donor — into an agenda that can chip away at the state’s laundry list of problems, including soaring property taxes, underfunded schools, an enormous pension liability and poor public transit.

Still, the outcome represents the triumph of a progressive message over a two-note focus on property taxes and immigration by Ms. Guadagno in a campaign that in many ways became a referendum on the Christie era.

“We left no stone unturned, and we would not have done anything differently,” Ms. Guadagno told disappointed supporters on Tuesday night during her concession speech in a ballroom in Aberdeen.

Throughout the race, Mr. Murphy overshadowed his opponent by channeling his fellow residents’ exasperation with the current governor, whose approval rating, in the low teens, ranks among the lowest in New Jersey’s history, and using their anger to sell his plan to fix a state that he declared to be “broken.”

The election of Mr. Murphy was yet another low-water mark in a long fall from grace for Mr. Christie, who once saw his approval ratings soar into the 70s and whose re-election margin in 2013 was so high that it instantly vaulted him into the presidential conversation.

And Mr. Murphy’s victory was further rejection of the politics of Mr. Trump, who was roundly defeated by Hillary Clinton in New Jersey last November. Mr. Murphy enjoyed the support of a parade of Democratic luminaries — Barack Obama, Joseph R. Biden Jr. and Al Gore, to name a few — who trekked to New Jersey to rally voters and remind them that this was one of their first opportunities to send a message to the White House. The president suffered another setback on Tuesday in the only other statewide election when Lt. Gov. Ralph S. Northam, a Democrat, was elected governor of Virginia, defeating the Republican candidate, Ed Gillespie.

In the final weeks in New Jersey, Ms. Guadagno, perhaps sensing that she was not gaining any traction, veered toward a style of politics more akin to Mr. Trump’s, campaigning against undocumented immigrants and running caustic ads that twisted Mr. Murphy’s words about cities that offer them sanctuary.

But support from Mr. Trump, who had been frantically tweeting about the Virginia governor’s race for weeks, was nowhere to be found for Ms. Guadagno, nor did any Republican Party luminaries travel to the state to offer their support.

From a campaign that began with a sharp focus on property taxes — she made a promise on primary night not to run for re-election if she failed to lower property taxes — Ms. Guadagno changed course and warned repeatedly that Mr. Murphy would turn New Jersey into a sanctuary state, hoping to energize the base of the Republican Party.

But the strategy fell flat, particularly in a state where the successful Republican Party playbook, which guided Mr. Christie and former governors Christine Todd Whitman and Thomas Kean to victory in an overwhelmingly Democratic state, has relied on winning over the large swath of New Jersey’s independent voters with a message focused on pocketbook issues.

The Democratic-controlled state is also poised to play a significant role in the growing resistance to Mr. Trump. The Democratic Party has targeted New Jersey as a state where it hopes to achieve gains in the 2018 midterms. Mr. Murphy’s victory, helped along by strong turnout in the northern part of the state, elevates the chances that incumbent Republican congressmen, like Representatives Leonard Lance and Rodney Frelinghuysen, can be defeated.

The prospect of a competitive 2018 election loomed larger with the announcement on Tuesday that Representative Frank LoBiondo, a Republican, was retiring at the end of his term, providing Democrats another competitive battleground.

Earlier in the day, Mr. Christie voted in his hometown, Mendham, and, perhaps not surprisingly, gave a local resident a taste of the brash politics that helped make him a national figure.

Victoria Giambra asked Mr. Christie why he hadn’t merged their municipality with the adjoining one — mergers are seen as a way to save money.

“I can’t,” he replied.

But Ms. Giambra pressed him. Mr. Christie grew testy.

“Easier to sit here and complain, but you know what?” Mr. Christie said. “That’s the joy of public service. It’s serving folks like you that is really such a unique joy. You’re fabulous.”

Mr. Christie also stressed that the election was not about him, his policies or his politics.

“My referendum was four years ago,” he said, noting that he won 61 percent of the vote in his re-election. “We’ll see if anybody beats that record any time soon.”

In his speech on Tuesday night, Mr. Murphy never mentioned Mr. Christie. But in an allusion to Mr. Christie’s pugnacious style and the rancor of the Trump era, the new governor vowed to chart a different course.

“Tonight,’’ he said, “we declare the days of division over.”

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