New Jersey Republican who nearly beat Murphy launches third bid for governor

BRIDGEWATER, NEW JERSEY - NOVEMBER 02: People wait inside of a hotel ballroom for New Jersey Republican gubernatorial candidate Jack Ciattarelli at his watch party on November 02, 2021 in Bridgewater, New Jersey. Ciattarelli, who is running against D

Republican Jack Ciattarelli, who came close to defeating Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy in 2021, has launched a third straight bid for New Jersey's top executive office.

Ciattarelli formally announced his bid Tuesday night in Freehold, pledging to take on the state's high taxes. The announcement was expected: On the day he conceded to Murphy last time, he said he would try again in 2025.

He joins a former legislative colleague, state Sen. Jon Bramnick, in next year's Republican primary. New Jersey, like Virginia, holds odd-year gubernatorial elections that unfold the year after each presidential contest.

The race will be wide open with Murphy leaving office after eight years due to term limits. The Democratic field includes Jersey City Mayor Steve Fulop and former Senate President Steve Sweeney. Newark Mayor Ras Baraka has indicated he would run as well.

Unlike Bramnick, Ciattarelli has said he's backing former President Donald Trump. Ciattarelli had been critical of Trump when the former casino mogul and reality television star first ran for president, but has backed him since then. Bramnick has staked out more a critical position on Trump.

Ciattarelli, who quit his Assembly seat to seek the governorship in 2017, is an accountant who founded a medical publishing company and held local positions in Somerset County.

He lost the GOP primary that year to former Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno, but won his party's nomination in 2021 and came with in a few percentage points of beating Murphy, a self-proclaimed progressive, in the heavily Democratic state. That was a good year for Republicans in legislative races, but the party lost ground in 2023 to Democrats, who outnumber Republicans in the state by nearly a million registered voters.