Vaccine passports and more mandates likely if Murphy is re-elected in NJ
Governor Phil Murphy has been relatively quiet when it comes to imposing any new COVID restrictions on Garden State residents, and appears unlikely to do so as election day approaches.
If Murphy wins re-election, however (and polls say it is likely), a series of new restrictions, mandates and/or policies are likely.
Public opinion polls show Murphy with a significant lead over republican challenger Jack Ciattarelli. Both democratic and republican internal polling, which gets more detailed and granular with key voting blocks, shows the race is much tighter. Perhaps as close as 5-6%. That would put the race nearly even given the margin of error.
One long-time democratic strategist told me Murphy's biggest ally is time. Even though the race is tightening and Ciattarelli has been gaining ground, there is likely not enough time before election day for the GOP candidate to overtake the incumbent. Early in-person voting begins this Saturday.
Murphy has generally gotten high marks from New Jersey residents on his handling of the pandemic, even though a vocal minority of residents continue to oppose most - if not all - COVID restrictions.
The governor has not been shy about telegraphing what he might do after November 2. In a series of editorial board meetings with New Jersey's largest newspapers, he said "everything was still on the table."
That includes vaccine passports and mandatory vaccinations to attend school in New Jersey.
Murphy told NJ Advance Media the only stopping him from requiring vaccine passports to eat inside a restaurant and attend entertainment events was a relatively low vaccination rate in black and brown communities. "I don't want to inadvertently put something in place that's discriminatory,” Murphy said.
Murphy also said he liked California's vaccine mandate for school kids, but would wait until federal drug regulators approved a COVID vaccine for kids as young as 5 to make that decision. That approval could come as early as November.
Meeting with the USA TODAY editorial board, Murphy also confessed he believes the COVID crisis is never going away. "I think this is going to be with us for the rest of our lives,” Murphy said.
By contrast, Ciattarelli has been for easing restrictions, fewer mandates and no forced vaccinations. He has appealed to voters on that issue, including masking kids in school.
At a campaign event in Burlington County on Tuesday, Republican Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel said she believed Murphy was "shaking in his boots" as the race comes down to the final weeks.
That is unlikely, but the race is probably closer than Murphy or his team would like. He has shuffled his executive staff to put more resources into the campaign.
Murphy has made sure that most voters will not have to wear a mask when they vote, as a reminder of who made them mask up in the first place. He issued an executive order lifting his in-school mask mandate for election day, ensuring voters will not have to mask up to vote inside a school building.