New Jersey will soon be getting a new Irish American Governor: Democrat Phil Murphy is a Kennedy admirer and a former Goldman Sachs executive and US Ambassador to Germany under President Obama.
Brought up in a “middle class” Irish home near Boston, the 60-year-old has never held elected political office before but has extensive political connections after serving as National Finance Chair of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) for three years.
In that role his own deep pockets, a cell phone brimming with millionaire friends and an ability to prise money out of them made him a valued member of staff in the run-up to the 2008 election.
His reward from President Obama – as so often in US politics – was a plum four-year long spell as an ambassador to Germany, a dependable and usually pliant ally. There he garnered a reputation in the Berlin press as a highly clubbable diplomat but hit the headlines after WikiLeaks revealed his unflattering appraisal of Chancellor Angela Merkel.
Speculation mounted in Trenton that the ambassador would soon head home to challenge for the governorship in 2013, but Murphy demurred. Chris Christie was then a popular first term Governor and New Jerseyans had not picked a governor from the same party as the president since 1985.
The odds were stacked against him and Murphy opted for a quiet return to the private sector.
But after Chris Christie’s approval rating plummeted after the so-called “Bridgegate” – when the governor was accused of shutting a key bridge into New York City to spite a political opponent – Democrats began rubbing their hands in glee at the damage to the local GOP brand. That and New Jersey’s thumping endorsement of Hillary Clinton last year suggested the Governor’s Mansion should easily flip to the blue team in 2017.
"I am running for governor because New Jersey desperately needs adult leadership that puts our people first," Murphy announced.
With a wide circle of political friends, Murphy quickly racked up endorsements from key players in the state party – including those of New Jersey’s two Democratic US Senators.
He coasted to victory in May’s Democratic primary, winning more than twice the votes of his nearest rival, and his focus shifted to the general election. He pledged he would use a “steel backbone” to stand up to President Trump, legislate for a $15-minimum wage and legalize marijuana.
Promising new taxes on his own wealthy family, Murphy attracted the support of the state’s labor unions which were eager to elect a Democrat after eight years of union basher Chris Christie.
His opponent, Lieutenant Governor Kim Guadagno, never hit on an issue popular enough to close the gap between them and his clear victory with 57% of the vote was called by networks within a matter of minutes.
“We will stand firm for New Jersey’s values, and push back against the mean winds blowing at us from Washington,” he told his cheering party faithful.
“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.”