Meet the Democratic, Republican candidates for NJ governor

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TRENTON, N.J. — Eleven Democrats and Republicans will be competing in this spring’s primary to succeed Republican Gov. Chris Christie in November’s general election, one of only two statewide races in the country this year.

The six Democrats and five Republicans collected at least 1,000 signatures and filed paperwork to compete in the June 6 primary, but ads are on television, money is flowing into coffers, debates are being planned and front-runners are emerging.

Last week’s filing deadline means the Democratic and Republican fields are set, but one wild card could be former “Saturday Night Live” comedian Joe Piscopo, who is considering an independent run. A political newcomer who hosts a talk radio show, he has until primary day to decide if he’s running.

A closer look at field and the race:

DEMOCRATS

William Brennan: Brennan is a former Teaneck firefighter with a law degree who earned 15 minutes of fame by bringing a citizens complaint against Christie. Brennan alleged Christie violated the state’s official misconduct law by failing to reopen the George Washington Bridge during the 2013 lane-closure scandal. Brennan’s case fizzled after the county prosecutor declined to pursue the suit.

Jim Johnson: Johnson is a former federal prosecutor in New York and Clinton administration Treasury official. His campaign has gained some traction, qualifying for public matching funds. He’s gotten about $900,000 in matching funds so far, according to state election officials.

Ray Lesniak: Lesniak is a long-time state senator and attorney whose base of support is mostly in Union County, which he’s represented in the Legislature for nearly four decades.

Phil Murphy: Murphy, the leading Democratic candidate, served as Barack Obama’s ambassador to Germany from 2009 to 2013 and earned a fortune as an executive at Goldman Sachs. He was also the Democratic National Committee Finance chairman under Howard Dean. He’s earned the backing of influential county party officials, unions and elected officials and pledged $10 million of his own money to the campaign.

John Wisniewski: Wisniewski has served in the Assembly for two decades and co-chaired the Legislature’s investigation into the George Washington Bridge scandal. Wisniewski was U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders’ campaign chairman in last year’s primary and is aiming to capture Sanders’ supporters in the primary. He has also qualified for public funds by reaching the $430,000 threshold.

Mark Zinna: Zinna is a Tenafly council member and the owner of a data-mining company. His campaign is focusing on what he calls the corrupt political system and is calling for open primaries, in which the state’s millions of unaffiliated voters could participate. Currently only registered Democrats and Republicans can vote in the primary.

REPUBLICANS

Jack Ciattarelli: Ciattarelli, a certified public accountant who owns a medical publishing company, has served in the Assembly since 2012. He qualified for public matching funds and has won the influential county party line in several places, including Burlington, Essex and Somerset.

Kim Guadagno: Guadagno has served as Christie’s lieutenant governor — the first in state history — since winning election in 2009. She is the party’s front-runner, racking up key endorsements and winning the party line in the state’s GOP hotbeds in Monmouth and Ocean counties. She gained a reputation as the administration’s ambassador to the business world. She also has qualified for public funds and has received more than $800,000, according to state election officials.

Steven Rogers: Rogers is a commissioner in Nutley and a stout supporter of President Donald Trump, unlike Ciattarelli and Guadagno. He also regularly appeared on Fox News as a commentator.

Joseph Rullo: Rullo owns a landscaping business in Ocean County and is also a Trump supporter. Echoing Trump’s drain-the swamp pledge, Rullo adopted “Drain the Swamp in Trenton” as his official ballot slogan.

Hirsh Singh: Singh is an engineer and Egg Harbor Township native who has embraced some of Christie’s policies, including his proposal to spend an equal amount of state aid per student, which would mean a reduction for poorer districts.

HOW ARE THE RACES SHAPING UP?

Public polls show Murphy leading the pack among Democrats and Guadagno with the most support among Republicans.

The primary comes as Democrats nationally are out of power and grappling with how to oppose President Donald Trump’s agenda. In New Jersey, Democratic candidates — Murphy especially — are casting themselves as a bulwark against the GOP-led Congress and Trump.

Republicans take a different but parallel tack, saying voters should give them a shot as a check against the Democrat-led Legislature. They’re also distancing themselves from Christie, whose approval ratings are hovering around 20 percent.

WHAT’S NEXT?

There is a pair of Democratic and Republican debates scheduled to take place ahead of the primary, but the dates and exact locations have not been set yet. Voters can also expect to get a look at primary fundraising reports from the first quarter when they’re released later this month.