Despite a sometimes tumultuous relationship with state Senate President Stephen Sweeney, Gov. Phil Murphy said Friday he’s “stunned” and “bummed” over the incredible upset New Jersey’s second-most powerful elected state official’s suffered in Tuesday’s election.
Sweeney, D-Gloucester, is expected to be ousted from the state Senate to a little-known Republican rival, Edward Durr. Sweeney has yet to concede the race against the political newcomer who spent little to campaign against him, though The Associated Press has projected the underdog the winner of the race.
Durr, meanwhile, has already garnered negative headlines and deleted his social media accounts after past xenophobic and anti-Muslim messages surfaced. A post from his Twitter account in September 2019 labeled Islam “a false religion” and its prophet, Muhammad, a “pedophile.”
Murphy characterized it all as bad for the state.
“I’m stunned. This guy who is apparently winning is a dangerous guy,” the Democratic said at a public event in New Brunswick, calling Durr’s social media posts “outrageous.”
“I want to be unequivocal,” Murphy added. “I do not welcome this in any way, shape or form. Steve has been a great partner, particularly over the past sort of two, two-and-a-half years. But at every step of the way we’ve gotten a ton done together. Steve has been outstanding.”
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Despite both being Democrats, Murphy and Sweeney have long locked horns, especially during tense budget negotiations. Though both have denied publicly they’ve had an acrimonious relationship.
But the governor insisted Friday that Sweeney’s departure would be a tough pill to swallow and said he’s hoping enough remaining votes will come in to give Sweeney a win — an unlikely outcome.
“I’m very bummed and he deserves the space he needs to count every voter and I have my fingers crossed,” Murphy said. “And if it comes out the wrong way I bemoan it.”
With 100% of precincts reporting, Sweeney trailed 32,742 votes to 30,444 — 51.8% to 48.2%.
If the outcome holds, the loss would end the longest state Senate presidency in New Jersey history and will significantly alter the political landscape in the Garden State.
It comes as Republicans saw an unexpected groundswell of support in Tuesday’s elections despite Democrats having more than 1 million more registered voters than Republicans in New Jersey.
No political insiders or pundits shared any concern about Sweeney losing his seat heading into the election.
“No one on God’s earth could have predicted that,” state Sen. Richard Codey, D-Essex, a former governor whom Sweeney ousted as Senate president 11 years ago, recently told NJ Advance Media.
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Sweeney was expected to be chosen by Senate Democrats for a seventh term before this loss — and was projected to be a possible candidate for governor in 2025.
NJ Advance Media staff writer Brent Johnson contributed to this report.
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