INSIDE THE NJ GOVERNOR’S RACE

After the election year we just experienced, it’s understandable if you’re not in any rush to vote again soon. But in the next few months, voters in the tri-state area will go at it once again deciding over several crucial races on the ballot. One of those key contests is in the Garden State, where Governor Phil Murphy has just legalized marijuana as he seeks a second term in office. Will this move, together with incumbency and personal fortune be enough to help propel the Democrat to a win? How will voters respond to his handling of the COVID crisis? And what kind of challenge can Republicans realistically mount in an increasingly blue state like New Jersey? Metrofocus contributor and host of “One on One with Steve Adubato” weighs in tonight.

Aired on February 24, 2021.

TRANSCRIPT

> WELCOME TO 'METROFOCUS.'

I'M RAFAEL PI ROMAN.

YOU KNOW, AFTER THE ELECTION YEAR WE'VE JUST EXPERIENCED IT'S CERTAINLY UNDERSTANDABLE IF YOU'RE NOT IN A RUSH TO VOTE AGAIN ANYTIME SOON.

BUT IN JUST A FEW MONTHS VOTERS WILL BE ADDED ONCE AGAIN BECAUSE THERE ARE SEVERAL CRUCIAL RACES ON THE BALLOT HERE IN THE TRI-STATE AREA.

ONE OF THOSE RACES IS IN THE GARDEN STATE WHERE GOVERNOR PHIL MURPHY IS SEEKING A SECOND TERM.

BUT WILL INCUMBENCY AND HIS PERSONAL FORTUNE BE ENOUGH TO HELP PROPEL HIM TO ANOTHER FOUR YEARS IN OFFICE?

HOW WILL VOTERS RESPOND TO THE WAY HE'S HANDLED THE COVID CRISIS?

AND WHAT KIND OF CHALLENGE CAN REPUBLICANS REALISTICALLY MOUNT IN AN INCREASINGLY BLUE STATE?

JOINING US NOW TO HELP ANSWER THESE AND OTHER QUESTIONS IS STEVE ADUBATO, A 'METROFOCUS' CONTRIBUTOR, THE HOST OF 'ONE ON ONE WITH STEVE ADUBATO,' AND THE AUTHOR OF THE FORTHCOMING BOOK 'LESSONS IN LEADERSHIP, INNOVATION AND DISRUPTION IN AN AGE OF COVID-19 AND BEYOND.'

IT'S A LONG TITLE BUT IT'S A WORTHY TITLE FOR A WORTHY BOOK.

STEVE, WELCOME BACK.

GOOD TO BE WITH YOU, MY FRIEND.

STEVE, LET ME START WITH A QUESTION I POSED IN THE INTRODUCTION.

WHAT ARE GOVERNOR MURPHY'S CHANCES OF GETTING RE-ELECTED?

AS WE DO THIS INTERVIEW, RAF, THEY'RE PRETTY DARN GOOD, AND I'LL TELL YOU WHY.

YOU MENTIONED THE INCUMBENCY.

BEING INCUMBENT IN NEW JERSEY, THE 1942 ZUNE OF NJ GIVES THE GOVERNOR MORE POWER THAN ANY OTHER GOVERNOR IN THE NATION.

LINE ITEM VETO.

THEY DON'T LIKE SOMETHING THAT SOMEONE PUTS INTO A BUDGET IT'S OUT.

RED PEN.

LITERALLY COMES OUT.

RIGHT?

YOU CAN'T DO THAT IN EVERY STATE.

PERSONAL FORTUNE IS ONE THING.

THE AMOUNT OF MONEY THAT PHIL MURPHY HAS RAISED AS AN INCUMBENT GOVERNOR IS EXTRAORDINARY.

THAT LARGESSE, THAT WAR CHEST IS A BIG DEAL.

AND HE'S READY AND WILLING TO SPEND IT.

I WASN'T SURE HE WAS GOING TO STAY.

IN ONE OF THE INTERVIEWS WE DID FOR 'METROFOCUS' I THINK I WRONGLY PREDICTED HE MAY GO, IF JOE BIDEN WON, TO THE ADMINISTRATION.

HE AIN'T GOING.

HE'S STAYING.

AND HE'S A JERSEY GUY WHO WANTS TO WIN RE-ELECTION AND CAN PUT ALL HIS MONEY BEHIND IT.

ONE MORE THING.

HOW THE COVID SITUATION CONTINUES TO PLAY OUT IN NEW JERSEY, THE VACCINE DISTRIBUTION DEBACLE IF YOU WILL, THESE BUSINESSES CONTINUING TO SUFFER, A LOT OF THAT'S GOING TO BE PUT AT GOVERNOR MURPHY'S FEET AND HE WILL BE HELD ACCOUNTABLE WHETHER HE THINKS IT'S FAIR OR NOT P.

WE'LL TALK ABOUT THAT.

BUT THE FACT OF THE MATTER, STEVE, IS YOU KNOW, HE'S AT 60% APPROVAL AND MOST OF THAT IS BECAUSE OF THE APPROVAL BY MANY NEW JERSEYANS OF THE JOB HE'S DONE WITH COVID-19 DURING THE COVID-19 CRISIS.

WHAT IS IT ABOUT HOW HE'S PERFORMED THAT HAS GARNERED SO MUCH SUPPORT?

YOU KNOW, A LOT OF -- IN MY VIEW, RAF, ANALYZING GOVERNOR MURPHY AND HOW HE'S PERCEIVED BY MOST NEW JERSEYANS AS YOU JUST SAID WAS OFTEN IN COMPARISON TO THE FEDERAL ADMINISTRATION OF PRESIDENT TRUMP, MEANING GOVERNOR MURPHY WAS OUT THERE EVERY DAY.

HE IS OUT THERE EVERY DAY WITH HIS HEALTH COMMISSIONER JUDY PERSICELLI.

EVERY DAY IN THE WEEDS GIVING THE DETAILS, RECOGNIZING THOSE WHO ARE LOST, SHOWING EMPATHY, SHOWING COMPASSION, SHOWING AN EASE IN THIS, IF YOU WILL.

AS A LEADER, RAF, IN AN ONGOING CRISIS LIKE THIS THAT'S A HUGE DEAL.

COMPARE THAT TO WHAT WAS GOING ON.

THERE'S A BRIEFING THERE'S NOT A BRIEFING, THERE'S A TASK FORCE THERE'S NOT A TASK FORCE.

TRUMP BELIEVES IN MASKS, NO, HE MOCKS PEOPLE FOR WEARING MASKS.

NOW IT'S DIFFERENT WITH JOE BIDEN AT PRESIDENT.

BUT I WILL SAY THIS.

GOVERNOR MURPHY'S BEEN VERY STEADY FROM DAY ONE.

ONE MORE THING, RAF.

THE FIRST CASE IN NEW JERSEY OF COVID BACK IN MARCH OF 2020, WAS LITERALLY THE DAY HE GOT OPERATED ON FOR CANCER.

GOVERNOR MURPHY NEVER MISSED A DAY OF WORK.

HE GETS TREMENDOUS CREDIT FOR THAT.

SO TO THE POINT THAT YOU MADE BEFORE, WHAT HAPPENS IF THE VACCINE ROLLOUT DOESN'T IMPROVE?

AND WHAT ABOUT THE ISSUE OF THE DEATHS IN THE NURSING HOMES AFTER THE POLICY OF BRINGING IN PEOPLE WHO MIGHT HAVE BEEN COVID POSITIVE INTO THOSE NURSING HOMES?

IS THAT GOING TO COME BACK TO HAUNT HIM?

I'M GOING TO TAKE THE VACCINE DISTRIBUTION FIRST, THEN I'LL GO NURSING HOME.

ON THE VACCINE DISTRIBUTION GOVERNOR MURPHY'S GOING TO CONTINUE TO SAY HE CAN'T AND THE STATE CAN'T AND THE COUNTIES AND LOCALITIES CAN'T DO IT AND DO IT WELL, THE VACCINE DISTRIBUTIONS BECAUSE THE SUPPLY'S NOT THERE.

AS WE DO THIS PROGRAM.

WE'RE HOPING AND PRAYING THAT CHANGES.

BUT GOVERNOR MURPHY'S ONLY GOING TO BE ABLE TO BLAME THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT FOR SO LONG BECAUSE NOW IT'S JOE BIDEN'S ADMINISTRATION.

AND THE BIDEN ADMINISTRATION CAN'T JUST SIMPLY BLAME THE TRUMP ADMINISTRATION FOR WHAT THEY DID OR DIDN'T DO.

AND ULTIMATELY I BELIEVE THE GOVERNOR IF THE EXECUTION PLAN IS NOT EXECUTED MORE EFFECTIVELY HE WILL BE HELD ACCOUNTABLE.

POLL NUMBERS WILL GO DOWN AS WILL THE RATES IN THE NURSING HOMES.

SEVEN PREVIOUS 'METROFOCUS' SEGMENTS.

I'LL SAY IT AGAIN.

IT WAS A TERRIBLE MISTAKE TO SEND PEOPLE WITH COVID BACK INTO THOSE NURSING HOMES WITHOUT GUARANTEEING THEY WERE GOING TO BE QUARANTINED, SEPARATED FROM OTHERS.

THE GOVERNOR BLAMES THE NURSING HOMES.

THE NURSING HOMES SAID LISTEN, THEY SENT THEM BACK, WE WEREN'T READY.

THAT'S A MISTAKE THAT THE GOVERNOR MADE.

AND I DON'T KNOW HOW IT'S GOING TO AFFECT HIM IN THE ELECTION.

BUT IT'S A LEADERSHIP MISTAKE.

I KNOW THAT.

GOVERNOR MURPHY GAVE HIS STATE OF THE STATE ADDRESS IN EARLY JANUARY.

AND SOME PUNDITS CALLED IT HIS FIRST RE-ELECTION CAMPAIGN SPEECH.

DO YOU AGREE?

AND WHAT WAS IN IT THAT HE LISTED?

WHAT ACCOMPLISHMENTS DID HE LIST?

YEAH, THAT WAS A CAMPAIGN SPEECH.

SO WHAT CHIEF EXECUTIVE DOESN'T GIVE A STATE OF THE STATE OR THE STATE OF WHATEVER AS A POLITICAL SPEECH?

HE'S PROUD OF RAISING THE MINIMUM WAGE IN THE STATE.

HE'S PROUD OF LEGALIZING MARIJUANA EXCEPT IT HASN'T ACTUALLY HAPPENED EVEN THOUGH THERE'S A LAW.

HE'S PROUD OF THE MILLIONAIRE'S TAX.

PROUD OF THAT.

HE ARGUES THAT WE NEED THAT REVENUE.

HE'S PROUD OF BEING ABLE TO BORROW 10 MILLION SXDS WAS ABLE TO DO IT IN THE MIDST OF COVID, EVEN THOUGH THE MONEY HASN'T BEEN SPENT.

HE'S PROUD OF A LOT OF THINGS.

BUT I HAVE TO TELL YOU, ULTIMATELY, REGARDLESS OF ALL OF THAT, ULTIMATELY HE WILL BE JUDGED ON THE COVID VACCINE PLAN, THE NUMBER OF DEATHS AND SIGNIFICANT ILLNESS IN NEW JERSEY AS WE MOVE FORWARD.

YOU KNOW, ONE OF THE PROBLEMS THAT THE GOVERNOR WAS HAVING BEFORE COVID HIT WAS HIS INABILITY TO GET ALONG WITH THE DEMOCRATIC MAJORITY IN THE LEGISLATURE AND PARTICULARLY THE PRESIDENT OF THE SENATE STEVE SWEENEY, SOMETHING THAT JON CORZINE KNEW A LITTLE ABOUT.

HE TAUNTS HIM EVERY ELECTION.

ABSOLUTELY.

HAS COVID HELPED OVERCOME THAT DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THESE TWO MEN?

LOOK, I DON'T KNOW HOW THEY ACTUALLY FEEL ABOUT EACH OOH PERSONALLY BUT IT'S NOT THAT RELEVANT AND I'LL TELL YOU WHY.

IT SEEMS TO ME STEVE SWEENEY, THE LONG-TIME PRESIDENT OF THE SENATE AND THE GOVERNOR, IS SMART ENOUGH TO KNOW WHETHER THEY LIKE EACH OTHER OR NOT.

IN THE MIDST OF COVID WITH PEOPLE DYING AS WE DO THIS PROGRAM, 21,000 NEW JERSEYANS, YOU DON'T HAVE THE LUXURY OF PLAYING PETTY NOT EVEN PARTISAN GAMES BUT PERSONALITY GAMES.

YES, STEVE SWEENEY WANTED TO BE GOVERNOR, STILL WANTS TO BE GOVERNOR, BUT PHIL MURPHY'S THE GOVERNOR.

AND STEVE SWEENEY IS A VERY POWERFUL PRESIDENT OF THE SENATE, AND MURPHY KNOWS HE CAN'T GET A LOT DONE IF HE DOESN'T GET ALONG WITH SWEENEY.

AND SWEENEY KNOWS THAT HAVING A BETTER RELATIONSHIP WITH THE GOVERNOR IS MORE EFFECTIVE FOR HIM.

IT'S PRACTICAL POLITICS.

IT'S NEW JERSEY.

SO FOR THE TIME BEING THEY'RE WORKING TOGETHER?

YES.

COMPARED TO WHAT WAS GOING ON BEFORE.

ABSOLUTELY, RAF.

WELL, OBVIOUSLY, GOVERNOR MURPHY'S GOING TO BE FACING A REPUBLICAN COME NOVEMBER.

WHO IS THE LIKELY REPUBLICAN?

IS THERE A FRONT-RUNNER?

NOT REALLY.

THERE WAS.

A FEW WEEKS AGO AS WE'RE TAPING THIS THERE WERE TWO CANDIDATES, DOUG STEINHART, WHO WAS THE CHAIR OF THE REPUBLICAN STATE COMMITTEE.

JACK CIATTARELLI, A BUSINESSPERSON, BUSINESSMAN WHO'S ALSO A FORMER MEMBER OF THE STATE LEGISLATURE.

AND STEINHART DROPPED OUT.

STEINHART WAS A BIG SUPPORTER OF DONALD TRUMP.

AFTER JANUARY 6th, THE INSURRECTION AT THE UNITED STATES CAPITOL, INTERESTING, DOUG STEINHART, WHO WAS A LAWYER, WHO HAPPENED TO BE EMPLOYED, RAF, AT A LAW FIRM HEADED BY SOMEONE WHO YOU AND I INTERVIEWED MANY TIMES, THE FORMER GOVERNOR OF NEW JERSEY JIM FLORIO, IRONICALLY, I'M SURE IT'S A COINCIDENCE, RAF, THAT RIGHT AFTER THE 6th DOUG STEINHART DROPPED OUT OF THE GOVERNOR'S RACE.

SOME HAVE ARGUED, AND I THINK IT'S LEGITIMATE, THAT REALLY COULD HAVE HURT THAT FIRM AND THEIR BUSINESS.

HIM BEING SO SUPPORTIVE OF PRESIDENT TRUMP AFTER THE 6th.

I SEE.

SO IT'S NOT BECAUSE REPUBLICANS IN NEW JERSEY WERE GOING TO TURN ON HIM BECAUSE HE WAS SO PRO TRUMP.

IT WAS BECAUSE HE WAS CONCERNED ABOUT THE FIRM'S BUSINESS.

LOOK, YOU LOOK AT THE NUMBERS IN NEW JERSEY AND ACROSS THE NATION.

BUT IN THE NEW JERSEY REPUBLICAN PRIMARY A VERY CONSERVATIVE, LEANING RIGHT, PROTRUMP CANDIDATE ACTUALLY HAS AN EDGE OVER A MORE MODERATE REPUBLICAN LIKE JACK CIATTARELLI.

IN THE SPHERE OF TOM KANE SR., CHRISTIE WHITMAN, MORE MODERATE.

IRONICALLY, JACK CIATTARELLI MOVED TO THE RIGHT EARLY ON BECAUSE HE THOUGHT -- AND HE WAS, BY THE WAY, 2016 A NEVER TRUMPER.

LATER ON, EH, MAYBE A LITTLE BIT WITH TRUMP, I DON'T WANT TO CRITICIZE HIM.

NOW HE'S TRYING TO MOVE TO THE MIDDLE BECAUSE HE HAS NO CHALLENGER IN THE REPUBLICAN PRIMARY --

HE DOES HAVE A COUPLE CHALLENGERS IN THE PRIMARY.

RIGHT?

BUT LET'S FACE IT, HE'S NOW THE FRONT-RUNNER?

BY FAR.

I RESPECT OTHER PEOPLE WHO ARE RUNNING, RAF, BUT POLITICAL OBSERVERS IN THE STATE RECOGNIZE THAT WHEN DOUG STEINHART DROPPED OUT THE NOMINATION WAS JACK CIATTARELLI'S TO LOSE.

SO WHAT DOES HE HAVE GOING FOR HIM THAT MAY GARNER HIM A VICTORY AGAINST MURPHY AND WHAT ARE THE THINGS THAT THE MURPHY CAMPAIGN IS GOING TO USE AGAINST HIM?

WELL, RIGHT AWAY THE MURPHY CAMPAIGN'S GOING TO SAY WAIT A MINUTE, YOU REFUSED TO BE CRITICAL OF DONALD TRUMP WHEN TRUMP WAS SAYING THE MOST DIVISIVE, POLARIZING THINGS.

YOU REFUSE, JACK CIATTARELLI, TO BE CRITICAL OF THE PRESIDENT FOR A SPEECH HE GAVE ON THE MORNING OF JANUARY 6th BECAUSE YOU SAID, 'THE ELECTION'S ONLY ABOUT GOVERNOR MURPHY.'

YOU CAN GET AWAY WITH THAT FOR ONLY SO LONG.

HIS ADVANTAGES ARE THE PROBLEMS AND CHALLENGES THAT GOVERNOR MURPHY IS GOING TO HAVE.

I'M REPEATING MYSELF LIKE A BROKEN RECORD.

AS RELATES TO KOIFD, AS RELATES TO THE NEW JERSEY ECONOMY, AS RELATES TO JOBS BEING LOST, BIDSES BEING CLOSED PRKTSLY SMALL BUSINESSES.

JACK CIATTARELLI'S ENTIRE CAMPAIGN IS GOING TO BE GOVERNOR MURPHY SHUT DOWN THIS STATE.

GOVERNOR MURPHY'S GOING TO SAY I PROTECTED THE STATE.

WE'LL SEE WHAT VOTERS DECIDE.

WE'VE SEEN DOUG LEAN PRETTY HARD TO THE DEMOCRATIC SIDE, PRETTY BLUE.

AND I GUESS IF THE VACCINES WORK THE HEALTH ASPECT OF THE COVID WILL BE IN THE REARVIEW MIRROR AND THE ECONOMIC ASPECTS OF COVID WILL BE FRONT AND CENTER.

AND IF UNEMPLOYMENT IS AT 10% STILL, WHICH IT IS NOW, THAT COULD BE TROUBLE.

OR WAS IT 10% WHEN CORZINE LOST, RIGHT?

ABSOLUTELY, RAF, GREAT POINT.

BUT IT SEEMS TO ME YOU CANNOT SEPARATE THE HEALTH CONSIDERATIONS IN A RESTAURANT, IN A GYM, WHATEVER, IN A STORE, YOU CANNOT SEPARATE THOSE HEALTH ISSUES -- I HAVE MY MASK RIGHT HERE.

JUST LOOKING FOR IT TO PROVE A POINT.

IS THAT RAF, YOU CAN'T SEPARATE HEALTH ISSUES FROM THE ECONOMIC ISSUES.

THAT'S WHAT THE GOVERNOR'S SAYING.

JACK CIATTARELLI'S SAYING YOU SHOULD HAVE BALANCED IT BETTER.

I'M GOING TO K. HIM, YOU'RE GOING TO ASK HIM AND OTHERS, WHAT WOULD YOU HAVE DONE DIFFERENTLY?

IF HE JUST SAYS OPENED UP THE STATE, REALLY?

THAT'S GOING TO BE A TOUGH SELL IN A STATE WITH SO MANY COVID CASES AND DEATHS.

SO WE'VE GOT ABOUT A MINUTE LEFT.

THE NOVEMBER ELECTION IS NOT JUST ABOUT THE GOVERNOR'S RACE.

ALL 120 LEGISLATIVE SEATS RUPP FOR GRABS.

IS THAT CORRECT?

ALL THE SENATORS, ALL THE ASSEMBLY MEMBERS.

WHAT'S GOING TO HAPPEN?

ARE REPUBLICANS GOING TO BE ABLE TO GAIN SOME SEATS?

ARE THEY GOING TO LOSE SOME?

IS IT GOING TO MORE OR LESS STAY THE SAME?

DOES THE TERM GERRYMANDERING MEAN ANYTHING TO YOU, RAF?

WITHOUT GIVING A CONSTITUTIONAL HISTORY LESSON OR POLITICS AND GOVERNMENT, LET'S SAY THE LEGISLATIVE MAP IN NEW JERSEY FOR ALL THE 40 DISTRICTS, TWO ASSEMBLY MEMBERS, ONE SENATOR, LEANS TO THE DEMOCRATS.

THOSE MAPS WERE PUT TOGETHER FAIRLY, I IMAGINE, BUT THE DEMOCRATS CLEARLY HAVE AN EDGE.

AND SOMETHING CATASTROPHIC HAS TO HAPPEN FOR DEMOCRATS IN THE NATION AND THE STATE FOR REPUBLICANS TO MAKE REAL BIG GAINS.

ALL RIGHT.

WELL, WE'RE GOING TO HAVE TO END IT WITH THAT BECAUSE OUR TIME IS OVER.

STEVE, THANK YOU SO MUCH.

AS ALWAYS, IT'S A PLEASURE.

ALWAYS A PLEASURE HERE TOO, RAF.

THANK YOU.

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