1981 Revisited: New Jerseyans May Not Know Next Governor Until Thanksgiving

1981 Revisited: New Jerseyans May Not Know Next Governor Until Thanksgiving people attend election watch party Supporters pray for New Jersey Republican gubernatorial candidate Jack Ciattarelli at an election-night watch party on Nov. 2, 2021, in Bridgewater, New Jersey. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

John Gizzi By John Gizzi Wednesday, 03 November 2021 01:18 PM Current | Bio | Archive

With the two candidates for governor of New Jersey separated by one tenth of one percent of the vote as of Wednesday afternoon, the Garden State may not know who it elected until Thanksgiving.

For older New Jerseyans (and a few veteran political reporters), the nail-biting countdown in the contest between Republican challenger Jack Ciattarelli and incumbent Democrat Phil Murphy evoked memories of what was, until Tuesday, their state’s closest-ever gubernatorial race four decades ago.

In 1981, former Assembly Republican Leader Tom Kean and Democrat Rep. Jim Florio went down to the wire in a race in which fewer than 2,000 votes out of more than 2.3 million separated them.

On election eve, two television networks projected that Florio had won. When votes were finally counted, Kean had topped the Democrat by a microscopic 1,677 votes.

A subsequent recount showed that Kean had won by 1,797 votes and, on the eve of Thanksgiving, Florio conceded.

As of Wednesday at noon, 88% of the votes were counted and Murphy, who had trailed Ciattarelli throughout most of the evening, now held a lead of 7,195 votes out of more than 2.3 million.

Most of the votes waiting to be counted were absentee ballots, early votes, and votes from overseas.

New Jersey does not have an automatic recount but recounts can be requested by candidates who believe an error has been made or ten voters state a reason that an error has been made.

Recount requests must be made before the New Jersey Superior Court no later than 17 days after the election and, if the recount fails to change the outcome, the individual making the request must pay for the recount.

Kean went on to win a record reelection (70%) and was president of Drew University in New Jersey, and chairman of the 9-11 Commission. Florio did win the governorship in 1989 but was defeated in '93 by Republican Christine Todd Whitman.

John Gizzi is chief political columnist and White House correspondent for Newsmax. For more of his reports, Go Here Now.

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