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    He almost beat NJ Gov. Phil Murphy. Now Republican Jack Ciattarelli is running again.

    By By Dustin Racioppi,

    Jack Ciattarelli promised to steer the state back from the left after two terms under Gov. Phil Murphy. Stefan Jeremiah/AP

    FREEHOLD, New Jersey — Republican Jack Ciattarelli is making his third run for New Jersey governor, seeking to build on the momentum he had when he nearly defeated incumbent Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy in 2021.

    Speaking to a room full of supporters at the American Hotel, where Abraham Lincoln stopped on his way to the White House in February 1861, Ciattarelli promised to steer the state back from the left after two terms under Murphy. Ciattarelli largely pledged to follow through on what he’s proposed in his last two gubernatorial runs: cut taxes, promote school choice, overhaul public school curriculum to ensure “age-appropriate lessons” and pursue a constitutional amendment to put term limits on state lawmakers.

    He criticized Murphy for his Covid-19 policies, overseeing “sky-high” taxes, overdeveloping suburbs and seeking to build windmills offshore.

    “It’s time for a commonsense problem solver. A chief executive officer. A hands-on CEO who knows exactly what needs to be done and is willing to do it. I think I know a guy,” said Ciattarelli, a former business owner and three-term state Assemblymember.

    Ciattarelli joins state Sen. Jon Bramnick in seeking the Republican nomination for governor, though others have been considering it. In a video released a couple hours before Ciattarelli announced, Bramnick touted his past election victories, particularly in a legislative district with more Democrats than Republicans that President Joe Biden won in 2020.

    “That will easily translate into our next gubernatorial election. We don’t need to lose anymore elections,” Bramnick said.

    Ciattarelli has been a sort of permanent candidate for years, so his campaign launch is a formality. He said he’d run again the day he conceded his three-point loss to Murphy three years ago, and he’s effectively been campaigning ever since: writing op-eds for Gannett newspapers and traveling around the state to keep up his profile.

    He first ran for the Republican nomination in 2017 but was defeated by then-Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno, who lost the general election to Murphy.

    His strong showing against Murphy in 2021 came amid a Republican insurgency in Trenton, when the party picked up several seats in the state Legislature, most notably the one held by Senate President Steve Sweeney.

    “Across the country, political talking heads were asking themselves how the hell a guy with a name most people couldn’t pronounce defied the polls, the predictions and the pundits,” said Ciattarelli — pronounced chet-a-rell-ee.

    “How the hell did we nearly knock off an incumbent governor in a state where Democrats outnumber Republicans by one million? In all 21 counties and 564 towns, we almost pulled it off because of people like you.”

    That close call had its own political effect in the Statehouse, with Murphy and Democratic leaders sharpening their attention on affordability and creating new tax rebate programs.

    Ciattarelli said it’s not enough. The state still has the highest-in-the-nation property taxes, state spending is at historic levels and, he said, New Jersey is impossible to retire in. He committed to capping property taxes for homeowners at 1 percent and freezing them for people 70 years and older. He also said he’d lower business taxes to be more competitive with states such as Florida, North Carolina and Pennsylvania.

    Ciatarelli proposes a pair of public school reforms: one to the school-funding formula that determines how much state aid each district gets and the other to what’s taught in the classroom. When he ran four years ago, Ciattarelli seized on Republican anger over sex education standards and requirements to teach diversity and tolerance.

    The newest idea from Ciattarelli is term limits. He said he’d “fight like hell” to limit state legislators to no more than eight years in office, saying “change is something we must embrace, not fear.”

    All those ideas would likely prove difficult, if not impossible, with a Legislature led by Democrats. But past Republican governors have been able to make deals with Democrats, and Ciattarelli said he’s “someone who can convince Democrats to support our ideas” but is not one who “surrenders to Democratic Party bosses over hot dogs and hamburgers," an apparent jab at Bramnick for his relationship with Murphy.

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