Businessman and former New Jersey General Assemblyman Jack Ciattarelli won the New Jersey GOP primary race Tuesday, according to the Associated Press.
Ciattarelli will challenge incumbent Democrat Gov. Phil Murphy.
Murphy, who won the Democratic primary after running unopposed, is seeking to become Democrat to be reelected New Jersey governor since the 1970s.
Ciattarelli had led in party establishment endorsements and was leading in polls ahead of the vote Tuesday.
But Ciattarelli faces opposition from avid Trump supporters for his criticism of the former president during the 2016 campaign – something his opponents had been banking on.
Engineer Hirsh Singh, former Franklin mayor Brian Levine, and far-right pastor Phil Rizzo each relied on the political pull Donald Trump’s popularity brings amongst GOP voters.
Despite that President Biden secured more than 60 percent of the state’s vote in the 2020 presidential election, candidates like Rizzo have emphasized their support of Trump.
In a May post to Twitter, the conservative pastor posted a picture of himself with Trump in Florida with the caption, “New Jersey 2021 can be a redo of 2016.”
Singh also ran on his support of the ex-president, calling Trump “the greatest president of my lifetime,” reported the Philadelphia Inquirer.
But Ciattarelli said he wanted to focus his campaign on issues a little closer to home.
“To beat Phil Murphy, we need to nominate the strongest candidate,” Ciattarelli said in a video posted to Twitter on the eve of the Republican primary election. “I’m the only candidate with the fundraising ability to defeat Phil Murphy and his extremist agenda.”
All the candidates have been outspoken over Murphy’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic and what they viewed as overly strict regulations.
Murphy lifted social distancing and mask mandates in the leadup to Memorial Day weekend, but New Jersey voters were encouraged to wear face coverings as they headed to the polls Tuesday, according to a local news outlet.
Ciattarelli had been favored to win the Republican nomination.