Doug Steinhardt, the chairman of New Jersey's Republican Party, will challenge Phil Murphy for governor next year in a race that will likely be a referendum on Murphy's handling of the coronavirus pandemic.
Steinhardt, the former mayor of Lopatcong (and the law partner of former Democrat Gov. Jim Florio), announced his run Friday morning. He is expected to step down from his state GOP role to enter the race.
"Phil Murphy promised us stronger and fairer, but instead gave us weaker and poorer. His billions in new debt, buckets of new taxes and far-left agenda are tearing our families apart and costing New Jerseyans their lives and livelihoods," Steinhardt said in a statement.
His website proudly touts his pro-life, pro-gun and particularly pro-Trump record. The state Democratic Party, anticipating his entry into the race, released a statement Thursday saying "we will never allow one of our state's biggest Trump supporters to become Governor."
The incumbent Murphy is seeking to become the first Democrat to win a second term as governor of New Jersey since 1977. He has gotten generally high marks for his handling of the pandemic; a Rutgers-Eagleton poll in mid-November found he had one of the highest favorability ratings for a New Jersey governor ever.
But as strong as that support is, it still down from earlier in the year, and the poll did not factor in the sharp increase in cases and deaths the state has experienced in the last few weeks.
Steinhardt, an unsparing critic of Murphy's, previously called for a federal criminal probe into the state's handling of long-term care facilities during the pandemic. (Of the state's 15,000+ COVID-19 deaths, almost half have been in those facilities.)
For now, Steinhardt's main challenger in the Republican primary looks to be Jack Ciattarelli, the former state Assemblyman and business owner who came in second in the GOP gubernatorial primary in 2017.