New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy has his eye on Washington

It’s been a whirlwind few days for temporary New Jersey governor Philip D. Murphy.

On a Tuesday in mid-February, he publicly rebuked Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a named Republican, and called his education policies “shameful.” At 12 noon the next day, he proposed that all new cars sold after 2035 be electric, following California’s lead. Earlier Thursday, Mr. Murphy, a Democrat, made an unannounced stopover in Ukraine en route to a security conference in Germany.

Back home in Jersey, the message was clear: The governor’s dying romance with Washington was now full-blown courtship, though his primary audience might have trouble finding Trenton on a map.

“You don’t disappear in the woodwork when you have national ambitions,” said Patrick Murray, director of the Polling Institute at Monmouth University, who for decades has observed how New Jersey politicians take advantage of the quirky off-year election cycle and proximity to New Yorks Media market as a springboard to higher offices.

“You never know when an opportunity will present itself.”

The 2024 presidential election campaign is in full swing. President Biden is expected to run for a second term, and the list of Republicans who have announced campaigns or are expected to run already includes Mr. DeSantis (who did not respond to Mr. Murphy’s criticism), former President Donald J. Trump, former Vice President Mike Pence and Nikki Haley, a former governor of South Carolina.

Mr. Murphy has consistently said he would be Mr. Biden’s No. 1 booster if he runs again, and he recently signed on to one Advisory Board by Democratic loyalists who are expected to be used as Biden replacements when the campaign kicks off.

Still, Mr. Murphy, a wealthy former Democratic National Committee finance chairman and ambassador to Germany who amassed a fortune at investment bank Goldman Sachs, has never quite closed the door on running for the White House should the president’s plans change .

And either way, he still seems keen to cultivate a national image, perhaps aware that there are often consolation prizes.

On Saturday, Mr. Murphy will try to spice up his resume with humor when he takes the mic at the annual Gridiron Club dinner, a famously irreverent white-tie, tailed roast that draws Washington’s top journalists and political insiders. (The other speaker this evening will be Mr Pence.)

Close aides say Mr Murphy, who declined to comment on the article, is genuinely unsure of what job he might have next, but they speculate he may be interested in becoming ambassador again, or perhaps even secretary of state .

A graduate of Harvard and the University of Pennsylvania and raised outside of Boston, he now counts musician Jon Bon Jovi among his closest friends. But he comes from a humble background, the youngest of four children in a working-class Irish Catholic family. Only his mother graduated from high school; his father worked for a time in administration at a liquor store near their home.

Always sociable, Mr. Murphy has become a pro at retail politics. He boldly drapes his arm around his shoulders when asked to pose for selfies, his broad grin and index finger pointing showman-style at the new best friend at his side.

But it’s the hundreds of off-camera calls he’s made to families who have lost loved ones to Covid-19 that his chief of staff, George Helmy, cites when he calls him “one of the most authentic people I’ve ever seen.” .

But after being re-elected in 2021 by a narrower margin than expected, Mr Murphy has openly sought to appeal more to moderate voters, leaving some of his left-leaning base frustrated because they say they have no urgency to finish Standing Up Strong.

Michael Feldman, a communications adviser and friend of Mr Murphy, said none of the governor’s political victories have been “a layup”.

“His ambition now is to try to advance the agenda that he’s pursuing in New Jersey — to advance some of these issues nationally,” said Mr. Feldman, who was a senior adviser to former Vice President Al Gore.

“I don’t know what the job is or will be, but there are many places that a person with their experience could be helpful in getting some of those things done.”

New Jersey governors may not serve more than two consecutive terms. And over the past year, observers wondering about Mr. Murphy’s next move have taken note of his suddenly youthful haircut, hip new glasses and shifting rhetoric.

The governor who once recommended that New Jersey was not the best choice for residents or businesses primarily concerned with low taxes now describes itself as “cold-blooded capitalist.” Be household address ended with an ode to the value of hard work. And be state of the state stressed the importance of bipartisanship, buried in a humble boast about his friendship with the Republican governor of Utah, vice chairman of the National Governors Association, which Mr. Murphy now chairs.

Mr Murphy, 65, is also chairman of the Democratic Governors Association – the first governor to hold both leadership posts simultaneously. He used the roles to his advantage.

During a recent trip to Los Angeles for the National Governors Association, he and his wife Tammy dined with film studio executives to showcase New Jersey as a hub for filmmaking while raising funds for the four political accounts they now juggle. Alliances he has formed have resulted in speaking engagements in Nevada and Florida. And both governorships are hosting major conferences in New Jersey this year.

There are younger Democratic governors with bigger names or bigger bank accounts, including California’s Gavin Newsom, Michigan’s Gretchen Whitmer, and Illinois’ JB Pritzker.

But during Mr. Biden’s presidency, New Jersey was a regular stop for members of the administration, with at least two visits apiece from the president, the first lady, vice president Kamala Harris and Pete Buttigieg, the secretary of transportation.

If Mr. Biden won re-election and Mr. Murphy won for a job he found enticing enough, it could mean leaving Trenton before the end of his term in 2026 and entering the gubernatorial race — which is already closing a win develops -the-popcorn-thriller – even livelier.

But even among liberals inclined to support him, Mr. Murphy’s reviews of his second term have become increasingly mixed.

Last year he reinstated a bear hunt he wanted to ban, infuriating animal rights activists. At the urging of groups funded by the billionaire owner of a neighboring golf club, he opened the door to private developments at Liberty State Park, the state’s largest and busiest public oasis. And there are so many jobs for judges that some counties have had to close divorce cases.

A coalition of environmental groups is suing the state to force Mr Murphy to comply with ambitious climate change rules he ordered as part of a Law 2019. “A poster child for actions that go against rhetoric,” said David Pringle, a leader of the coalition.

And residents of communities as diverse as Jersey City, Newark and Gibbstown in the state’s rural southwest are furious at Mr. Murphy’s support for the expansion of the Turnpike near New York City and the failure to halt six new fossil fuel projects that are They are expected to worsen air quality in minority communities already overburdened by pollution.

“The governor has a lot of words for environmental justice but isn’t demonstrating any real leadership on behalf of our community,” said Maria Lopez-Nuñez, who lives in Newark and is fighting to block construction of a replacement power plant in the city’s Ironbound neighborhood.

Ms. Lopez-Nuñez is also a member of Mr. Biden White House Advisory Council on Environmental Justice.

“I’d like to cheer for the governor,” she said. “But I have to see the work.”

A spokesman for Mr. Murphy, Mahen Gunaratna, said some opposition was to be expected, particularly after a first term in which Mr. Murphy made good on so many campaign promises dear to his progressive base. His priorities for the second term are moving closer to the centre.

At least part of his shift in tone has to do with November’s general election. Democratic leaders who control the state legislature remain nervous about losing seven seats in 2021, and Republicans believe they are within remarkable reach of regaining majority control — a result that would undermine Mr. Murphy’s legacy .

A January Monmouth University survey suggested that Mr. Murphy’s popularity remained steady at 52 percent. But less than a third of those polled said he would make a good president.

Only a governor from New Jersey was ever elected President: Woodrow Wilson, whose memory is now so tainted by his racist policies that Princeton removed his name from its School of Public and International Affairs.

Other New Jersey luminaries have also had plans for the White House in recent years: Senator Bill Bradley was eclipsed by Mr. Gore in the 2000 Democratic primary; Governor Chris Christie ended his campaign in 2016 before endorsing Mr. Trump; and Senator Cory Booker withdrew from the last presidential campaign after a year-long campaign.

Mr. Booker, 53, a Democrat and former Newark Mayor, appears to be as open-minded as Mr. Murphy. “I’m not running 24 if Joe Biden is running,” Mr. Booker said in a recent statement TV interview.

“My goal in life is to restore more ‘indivisibility’ to this ‘one nation under God,'” he said, adding, “so that we can see the future.”

Jennifer Palmieri, a Democratic strategist who was President Barack Obama’s communications director, has known Mr. Murphy since 2005 and considers him a friend. She said she didn’t know what he planned to do next. But, she added, “it seems far from finished.” New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy has his eye on Washington

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