Wall Street, Trump at play in New Jersey governor’s race

FILE- In this May 11, 2017, file photo, Phil Murphy participates in a Democratic gubernatorial primary debate in Newark, N.J. New Jersey voters are heading to the polls to pick their candidates to succeed Republican Gov. Chris Christie on Tuesday, June 6. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez, File)

TRENTON, N.J. (AP) — Voters on Tuesday began the process of finding Republican Gov. Chris Christie’s replacement, with thoughts about Wall Street banks and the Trump administration weighing on their minds at the polls.

A former Goldman Sachs executive and Christie’s second-in-command are the leading candidates, and Tuesday’s winners will compete in the Nov. 7 general election. It will be one of two statewide gubernatorial contests in the country this year, along with Virginia, and it’s the first statewide primary since President Donald Trump took office.

The candidates are little known, even in New Jersey, and are competing as Trump administration developments swamp headlines, spurring the Democratic candidates to lash out at the Republican president and wedging Republicans between an unpopular White House and a governor of whom most voters disapprove.

On the Democratic side, candidates attacked wealthy front-runner Phil Murphy over his time at Goldman Sachs. They compared him to members of Trump’s administration who also worked there and former Democratic Gov. Jon Corzine, another Goldman Sachs alumnus who, like Murphy, donated to local Democratic parties.

Sharyn Kingston, 25, of Freehold, said she was wary of Murphy’s “Goldman Sachs connections” but voted for him because he’s best suited for the job and can win the election.

“I’m not an Occupy Wall Street type, but I am afraid of big money in politics, and he made it look like he was trying to buy the nomination,” the legal secretary said.

John Parilla, 75, an immigration lawyer from Alpine, voted for Republican front-runner Lt. Gov Guadagno and said he likes the range of experience she brings to the job. He said he doesn’t see her as a Christie clone but does see similarities between Murphy and Corzine.

Guadagno, who was twice elected on the ticket with the term-limited governor, has gone to great lengths to try to highlight their differences. Christie, who remained neutral during the campaign, said Tuesday that he voted for Guadagno.

“I’ve worked with her for eight years, and I believe that she’s the best person in the Republican primary to represent the party in the fall and to retain the governorship,” Christie said.

Also seeking the Republican nomination were Assemblyman Jack Ciattarelli, Nutley Commissioner Steve Rogers, Ocean County landscape business owner and actor Joseph “Rudy” Rullo and Atlantic County engineer Hirsh Singh.

The race to take the governor’s office back from a Republican comes as Democrats nationally weigh whether distancing themselves from Wall Street will help them counter Trump and his populist Republican allies. Murphy blurs the line between establishment and insurgent just as Democrats reckon with whether their best candidates should come from within or outside the traditional party structure.

Murphy, a Middletown resident who served as President Barack Obama’s ambassador to Germany after chairing the Democratic National Committee’s finance arm, loaned his campaign more than $16 million.

Murphy faced challenges from former Teaneck firefighter Bill Brennan, one-time Clinton administration Treasury official Jim Johnson, state Sen. Ray Lesniak, Assemblyman John Wisniewski and Tenafly Councilman Mark Zinna.

Nancy Dhulipala, 49, of Alpine, works for a nonprofit focused on education for children with disabilities. She said that she voted for Murphy and that Trump had an effect on her decision because she hopes to see Democrats take control at the state level to provide a balance to what’s going on in Washington. New Jersey’s Legislature already is controlled by Democrats.

Dhulipala said she likes Trump’s proposal to revamp the nation’s air traffic control system but is “a little nervous” about other things.

“I’m just not very excited about how he pulled out of the (international) environmental accord,” she said.

Democrats are favored in the general election, in part because of an 800,000-voter registration advantage and because of political headwinds stemming from Christie’s and Trump’s unpopularity.

Polls are open until 8 p.m.

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Contact Catalini at https://www.twitter.com/mikecatalini

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Associated Press writers David Porter, in Alpine, and Bruce Shipkowski, in Freehold, contributed to this report.

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For more on the New Jersey’s governor’s race, go to https://apnews.com/tag/NewJerseyGovernor’sRace

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This story has been corrected to show Jim Johnson’s wife’s name is Nancy, not Mary.