Phil Murphy's first 2024 hurdle: New Jersey Democrats

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy’s name is on the lips of Democrats around the country as a potential 2024 candidate should President Joe Biden decide not to seek a second term — and he’s not doing much to dissuade the talk.

But as Murphy tries to burnish his image as someone who’s putting progressive policies to work, he faces a major obstacle: A skittish Legislature led by members of his own party.

He’s pushing more measures to stiffen the state’s already strict gun laws. He wants to further open up abortion access. The response from fellow Democrats has been muted, if not an outright “no.” The legislative leaders, simply put, are worried about feeding a Republican resurgence.

“I think they realized after last year that the mood is different than it was just two years ago,” state Sen. Dick Codey, a former governor who’s often allied with Murphy, said in an interview.

Elected a year into Donald Trump’s presidency in 2017, Murphy held New Jersey out as a beacon for alienated progressives. After Trump was defeated in 2020, Murphy turned his focus to contrasting state policies with the conservative U.S. Supreme Court, which on Thursday struck down a key New York gun law and on Friday voted to overturn Roe v. Wade.

Murphy called the decision to overturn Roe “backwards and appalling.”

Murphy’s political allies, including his wife, Tammy, are spending millions of dollars to boost his image in the state with a super PAC and a dark money nonprofit group, which many view as a preview of the governor’s national ambitions. He’s also taking the helm of the Democratic Governors Association in 2023 for the second time.

Murphy can’t seek a consecutive third term and, as a result, is free to focus on social issues that play to a national Democratic audience in early primary states. Members of the New Jersey Legislature, all of whom are up for reelection in 2023 under a new district map that gives Republicans their best shot in 20 years at winning control, don’t have that luxury.

Murphy last year became the first Democratic governor in New Jersey to win reelection since 1977. But he did it by a far smaller margin than most expected, winning by just 3 points. The Democrat-led Legislature fared worse, suffering a net loss of seven seats in both houses, including the shocking upset of former Senate President Steve Sweeney. That cut down the party’s majorities to 24-16 in the state Senate and 46-34 in the General Assembly.

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published this page in News and Politics 2022-06-25 09:36:32 -0700