HAMILTON TOWNSHIP, N.J. — Republican Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno on Tuesday promoted herself to New Jersey’s business leaders as a governor who would fight against tax increases, while attacking her top rival, Democrat Phil Murphy, who sketched a plan for building up the state’s economy.
The state’s leading candidates in this year’s race to succeed term-limited Republican Gov. Chris Christie delivered contrasting addresses to the influential New Jersey Business and Industry Association, which doesn’t endorse in the race but lobbies state government.
The speeches came just a week after Guadagno and Murphy won their party nominations. Some consider Tuesday’s event a traditional starting point for the general election campaign.
Guadagno, who spent nearly eight years as Christie’s top deputy and leading emissary to the business community, seemed animated and in her element. Known for giving her cell number out to voters and business leaders, she asked the crowd how many had her number and playfully acted disappointed after she indicated most had it and she couldn’t tell the same jokes.
Guadagno went on the attack against Murphy, who served as former President Barack Obama’s ambassador to Germany and as a former executive at Goldman Sachs.
Murphy’s plan for New Jersey centers on the state making a full public pension payment, funding the state’s education aide formula, estimated to carry a cost of about $1 billion a year, and rejoining a regional greenhouse gas initiative. He’s also called for a $15 an hour minimum wage and increasing state funding for transportation.
Guadagno estimated that his plan carries a $50 billion cost in a state with a budget of just $35 billion.
“We will stop the progress that you have made if you don’t stop Phil Murphy,” she said.
Murphy called for “getting the economy right” and said New Jersey could do better if it took advantage of its transportation and higher education industries better than it had over the past eight years.
He responded to Guadagno’s $50 billion estimate after the address by calling it “alt math,” and said he believes in his ideas.
“We are very proud of the fact that we … understand what the obligations are going to be,” he said.
The address highlighted a contrast in the groups each candidate is appealing to in a race where Democrats outnumber Republicans by about 800,000 voters in the general election. The state’s largest voting bloc is unaffiliated voters.
Murphy has the backing of labor unions and progressive groups that back higher minimum wage legislation. He is aiming to capitalize on voters fatigued by eight years of Christie’s administration and disaffected by President Donald Trump, a Republican.
Guadagnois aiming to rev up business-minded voters who have traditionally found a home in the Republican party in New Jersey.
Election Day is Nov. 7.