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N.J. Gov. Phil Murphy ekes out win over GOP challenger Jack Ciattarelli

"The people of this great state have asked us to continue the progress we have made across the past four years," Murphy said Wednesday night.

N.J. Gov. Phil Murphy ekes out win over GOP challenger Jack Ciattarelli
New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy speaks at the NJ Transit Meadowlands Maintenance Complex in Newark, N.J., on October 25. Photo by John Angelillo/UPI | License Photo

Nov. 3 (UPI) -- New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy did not coast to re-election as some expected he would, but ultimately won a tight contest with Republican Jack Ciattarelli as results came in Wednesday.

CNN, The New York Times, ABC News and NBC News all projected victory for Murphy, making him the first Democrat to win re-election in New Jersey in four decades. The margin was narrow, 50% to 49%.

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By Wednesday morning it appeared at one point that Murphy may have no lead at all in the actual race. By the afternoon, though, Murphy's lead was about 15,000 votes, or less than 1%, according to The New York Times.

An official declaration of victory should follow soon, but Ciattarelli could request a recount because the margin is so thin.

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"To everyone who made tonight possible, thank you all so much! Most importantly, I thank my family, and the four most important things that Tammy and I have ever accomplished," Murphy wrote in a tweet after his projected victory.

"Tonight, I renew my promise to you -- whether you voted for me or not -- to work every single day of the next four years to keep moving us forward. Forward with a deeper sense of fairness and a commitment to equity. Forward by rejecting the divisiveness and chaos that permeate too much of our politics. In short, forward by living up to our Jersey Values."

Officials estimated early Wednesday that there were still about 700,000 early and mail votes left to count.

A Ciattarelli win, which looked possible for a while, would have been a shocking upset for Republicans after they consistently lagged behind in the polls throughout the campaign, sometimes by double-digits.

Murphy painted Ciattarelli during the campaign as a lesser version of former President Donald Trump -- an assessment the GOP businessman consistently rejected. Experts feel that Ciattarelli likely won support from some moderate Democratic New Jersey voters who also put Republican Gov. Chris Christie in office for two terms.

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"I wanted to come out here tonight and tell you that we won," Ciattarelli told supporters early Wednesday, according to the Bergen Record. "But I'm here to tell you that we're winning, we're winning."

At a gathering in Asbury Park earlier Wednesday, Murphy was optimistic that he would emerge victorious.

"[I'm sorry] that tonight could not yet be the celebration we wanted it to be," he said. "When every vote is counted ... we hope to have a celebration."

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New Jersey was one of two states that elected a new governor on Tuesday. In Virginia, Trump-endorsed Republican Glenn Youngkin upset Democratic challenger and former Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe.

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