June 8 (UPI) -- Former three-term New Jersey state legislator Jack Ciattarelli won the Republican nomination for governor Tuesday night, beating out three other GOP candidates to take on favorite and incumbent Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy in November.
Both CNN and and the Philly Voice projected the 59-year-old, who finished second in the 2017 Republican primary, to beat out lesser-known candidates Hirsh Singh, pastor Phil Rizzo and Franklin Mayor Brian Levine.
With nearly 67% of precincts reporting late Tuesday, Ciattarelli had a commanding 49.5% vote share to Rizzo's 25.8%, Singh's 21.6% and Levine's 3.1%, according to the Philly Voice.
"Tonight, New Jerseyans show they are ready for change, and we are just getting started," Ciattarelli said in a statement reported by The New York Times. "The fact is, after four years of Murphy's failed leadership, our state is struggling."
"We will make New Jersey more affordable by lowering property taxes. We will create jobs. We will bring Main Street small businesses back to life. We will reduce the size and cost of government," he said.
A former critic of Trump, Ciattarelli softened to the former president but his shift was attacked as donning the guise of a loyalist to attract votes from his base in the state.
His path to the nomination Tuesday night was paved by Singh, who was widely viewed as his main challenger, and Rizzo seemingly splitting the pro-Trump vote as they both had tied their campaigns to the former president.
Sigh, who had ran on Trump-centric policies of election integrity and immigration, had been endorsed by Trump's former campaign manager, Brad Parscale, and even vowed to lead like the former president.
Ciattarelli, on the other hand, campaigned on lowering property taxes, the economy and affordable healthcare.
"Jack Ciattarelli is exactly the kind of fighter Garden Staters need to get the state headed in the right direction again," said Doug Ducey, the Republican governor of Arizona and the chairman of the Republican Governors Association, said in a statement early Wednesday. "After years of ineffective tax and spend policies from Phil Murphy, I know Jack will work hard to make it once again easily achievable for New Jersey families, senior citizens and small businesses to prosper."
Now, he will in the fall take on Murphy, who won his primary Tuesday uncontested.
In a recorded statement, Murphy thanked New Jerseyans "for putting your faith in me in these past four years and at the polls today."
"There are some that want to take us back to the way things were before -- when New Jersey only worked for the wealthy and the well-connected. We can't go back. We have to keep moving forward and build on all the progress that we've already made together," he said.
Ciattarelli will have a tough fight ahead in a state where registered Democratic voters outnumber Republicans by more than a million.
On Tuesday, Rutgers Eagleton Center for Public Interest Polling declared that November's gubernatorial is "Murphy's to lose," stating "he has a clear path to re-election victory."
According to the survey research center, 42% of New Jersey registered voters said they will vote for Murphy, 21% they were on the fence and 31% said they would definitely vote for someone else.
In a race against Ciattarelli, the scales tip further in Murphy's favor with 52% stating they would vote for him compared to 26% who said they'd vote for his challenger.
"New Jersey has seen some uncompetitive gubernatorial races the past couple of cycles, and this race does not seem to be the exception right now," Ashley Koning, the director of the university-based research center, said. "Murphy currently has a stronger lock on his base than Ciattarelli and beats him among independents right now by a double-digit lead."