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Tight Race For New Jersey Governor Catches Some Off-Guard

SAYREVILLE, N.J. (CBSNewYork) -- Multiple polls had New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy leading in some cases by double digits and with registered Democrats outnumbering Republicans by more than a million in the state, some were caught off-guard by how close the election is.

Bergen County has the highest number of registered voters in the state with more than 688,000.

In 2017, Murphy beat Kim Gaudagno in the county by a large margin -- tens of thousands.

His lead there over Republican Jack Ciattarelli is much smaller.

"Every Democratic stronghold underperformed," former assemblyman John Wisniewski told CBS2's Alice Gainer. "And in contrast, you counties that performed OK for Kim Guadagno really blow the doors off for Jack Ciattarelli."

WATCH: Political Expert Dr. Will De Veyga Weighs In On 2021 New Jersey Gubernatorial Race --

Wisniewski, who ran against Murphy in the 2017 Democratic gubernatorial primary, blames a lack of enthusiasm.

"Jack chose a message -- pandemic and taxes -- and hit them relentlessly," he said. "What Phil Murphy did was talk about, 'Here's what I've accomplished,' but there was a real void in what is going to come in the next four years."

Other political experts agree.

"Jim Florio, as a Democrat, lost the race primarily because of taxes. It's been a breadwinner for Republicans ever since. So the old adage of socially liberal, fiscally conservative, I think there's a good deal of truth to that that defines New Jersey voters," said Saladin Ambar, professor of political science.

"There is a bit of a hangover effect for the party that wins the presidential year," said Kristofer Shields, a historian with the Eagle Center on the American Governor.

He notes the party opposite the president's has won the New Jersey governorship dating back to 1985.

"President Biden is much less popular in New Jersey right now than he was a year ago, and I think that that probably had an impact," Shields said.

New Jersey voters have supported moderate GOP candidates in the past, and for two terms, unlike Democrats, who haven't seen a second-term governor since 1977.

As for polls being reliable predictors...

"We have to I think stop using them in the sort of horse race way that we have been in the past," Shields said. "Polls are going to have to be more and more creative about how they put their samples together."

No matter the outcome, a lot of lessons will come out of this election.

CBS2 reached out to the secretary of state, who oversees elections in New Jersey, to find out if there were any voting issues Tuesday but have not heard back.

Click here to check complete election results.


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