The Garden State's gubernatorial race has kicked into high gear as early voting began.
Incumbent New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy, who is running for a second term, could become the first Democrat to be reelected in 44 years. "New Jersey's diversity is our greatest strength... We just created the Office of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, And Belonging," Murphy noted.
While Murphy's campaign is also laser-focused on his work fighting the Covid pandemic, Republican challenger, businessman Jack Ciattarelli, doubled down on tax issues.
"The one thing that was on everybody's mind is the one thing Phil Murphy never likes to talk about - property taxes," Ciattarelli claimed. "I promise you as governor, fixing property taxes [and] lowering property taxes will be my number one priority."
Murphy has been leading in polls but according to the Emerson College/PIX 11's recent surveys, Ciattarelli last week cut his lead from 16 points to six. 7% of voters are also said to be undecided.
Meanwhile, behind Murphy’s campaign is young Fil-Am Lauren Lalicon, who is part of the governor's AAPI outreach team. She said Murphy has one of the most diverse Cabinets in New Jersey history.
"It's always been a priority for the governor to really connect with the communities of color in New Jersey. That includes making sure that a lot of his administration has people of color in high leadership levels," Lalicon said.
Prior to organizing for the governor's campaign, Lalicon worked as a policy director for the office of New Jersey's first lady. "I was able to really highlight a lot about [Filipino] culture... When I was in the governor's office, I helped develop the governor's Asian Pacific American Heritage Month events at Drumthwacket, the governor's residence. So I was able to bring in a lot of diverse communities there, make sure that every community feels like they're seen and heard, and make sure during Filipino American History Month last year, the first lady was able to highlight it."
This year marks the first time that voters in New Jersey can cast their ballots early and in-person. The early voting period began October 23rd and will run until the 31st. Lalicon believes with nine extra days of early voting, registered voters have no reason whatsoever not to be able to exercise their right to vote in the gubernatorial race. "It's so much easier. It breaks down more barriers to civic engagement in New Jersey and I think that's where our team is really focusing our attention - making sure that people understand that there's nine days of early voting so many more opportunities to vote."