The Associated Press has declared Phil Murphy the projected winner in the very tight race for governor in New Jersey, but the vote counting continues and Republicans are expected to call for a recount.

Even if Murphy is confirmed as the winner, political experts agree the GOP was able to energize and mobilize its supporters on Election Day much more efficiently than the Democrats, and it could be a sign of things to come.

Micah Rasmussen, the director of the Rebovich Institute for New Jersey Politics at Rider University, said “it’s not like the New Jersey electorate has changed all of a sudden: there are still a million more Democrats today than there are Republicans, but the Democrats did not turn out enough of them.”

He said Republicans were able to generate enthusiasm for their candidates because “people were ready to look at other issues other than how Gov. Murphy has handled the pandemic, they were ready to turn their attention back to issues like education, back to issues like taxes.”

Rasmussen said the Jack Ciattarelli commercial showing Phil Murphy saying if the tax rate is your issue “we’re probably not your state” was effective.

“You have that handy 5-second clip that everybody can easily understand, and it drove a lot of people who were concerned about taxes to say well, I guess he’s not my guy,” he said.

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Ben Dworkin, the director of the Rowan Institute for Public Policy and Citizenship at Rowan University, said another reason Phil Murphy and other Democrats were only able to muster lukewarm support from voters was the headwinds blowing out of Washington, D.C..

He said those headwinds included President Biden’s falling approval ratings, Democratic dysfunction in Congress “and just the general frustrations and anger in the electorate: the rising cost of gas but you can’t buy a new car that would be more efficient because that’s too expensive, the rising cost of groceries.”

Dworkin said there have been building frustrations among voters about the labor shortage, pandemic mandates, what’s being taught in schools and “the election was the first time those folks were able to express it at the ballot box.”

He said while a majority of New Jersey residents have approved of Gov. Phil Murphy’s handling of the pandemic, that approval did not spur them to go out and vote.

“A minority of New Jerseyans who are upset with the way the pandemic has been handled by the state, they absolutely showed up and they made their voice heard," he said.

Dworkin said while the Ciattarelli campaign was able to focus its message on tax relief and parental choice, the message from the Murphy campaign of moving forward was not centered on one or two defined issues “so that voters could easily say this is what a second term for Phil Murphy is going to be like.”

Rasmussen noted Republicans had a lot of candidates running for local school board seats on Tuesday who were anti-mask and pro-parental choice, a contributing factor in districts where parents who agreed on these issues turned out to vote for the Republicans.

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