UPDATE 11/3/2021 6:30 p.m. -- Phil Murphy Projected As Winner Of New Jersey Governor's Race
HOBOKEN, N.J. (CBSNewYork) -- The gubernatorial race in New Jersey has become a real nail biter.
Initially, Gov. Phil Murphy led as the early returns came in Tuesday night, but then he was overtaken by Republican challenger Jack Ciattarelli. However, as of 6:15 p.m. on Wednesday, with nearly 98% of precincts reporting, Murphy had gone back on top, 50-49.
Political experts believe, this time, the incumbent may have enough of a lead to win, CBS2's Christina Fan reported.
READ MORE: New Jersey Election Results 2021
What was supposed to be a comfortable win for Murphy has become a race that is still too close to call.
Nervous supporters of the governor started deserting the Asbury Park Convention Hall late Tuesday night as Ciattarelli's camp gained momentum in Bridgewater.
WATCH: Jack Ciattarelli Addresses Supporters At Campaign HQ --
Polls showed the Republican nominee trailing by 8 points in the days leading up to the election, but at one point Tuesday night, Ciattarelli surpassed Murphy by almost 1,200 of votes.
"This is what I love about this state, if you studied history. Every single time it has gone too far off track the people of this state have pushed, pulled, and prodded right back to where it needs to be," Ciattarelli said.
On Wednesday, the Ciattarelli campaign issued the following statement:
"Last night was a historic one for New Jersey Republicans, who picked up at least a half dozen Assembly seats, several Senate seats, along with county and local seats up and down the state. Jack is proud to lead our ticket and our party's resurgence. Right now, our team is focused on making sure all the legal votes are counted and our citizens can have confidence in the system."
WATCH: Governor Phil Murphy Addresses Supporters At Campaign HQ --
The latest updates now show that Murphy has retaken the lead, as he tries to become the first Democratic governor in New Jersey to win re-election since 1977.
"What we can already take from tonight is knowing that many of our friends and neighbors like us do not want to go backward," Murphy said.
Those who voted told CBS2 on Wednesday they are glad they had a say in such a tight race.
"That's why I said to my son, 'You need to go.' He's like, it's not going to make a difference. And I said it does. You need to go a make a difference," said Linda Carlesi of Hoboken.
WATCH: Political expert Professor Saladin Ambar discusses N.J. governor's race
Political science professor Saladin Ambar said he believes Murphy's current lead may be enough to eke out a victory, adding there are still some mail-in ballots that have to be counted and those traditionally favor Democrats.
"That vote is outstanding in places like Mercer County and other areas like Essex that remain heavily Democratic, so it looks pretty good for the incumbent governor," Ambar said.
New Jersey does not have an automatic recount law, but candidates can request for one by filing suit within 17 days of Election Day. Experts believe that will likely happen here.
No matter who wins, one thing is for sure: they will be governing a divided state.
Voters that spoke to CBS2's Meg Baker said they were surprised the race for governor is such a nail biter.
"I did not think it was going to be this close," said Sean Covella of Monmouth County.
"Closer than I thought," added Jason Lutz of Ocean County.
Political strategist Jeanette Hoffman said Republicans saw the enthusiasm for Ciattarelli increase in recent weeks.
"When he starts talking about issues that matter to New Jersey voters -- education, taxes, the economy -- it really resonated to all New Jersey voters," Hoffman said. "I definitely think there was an overconfidence by Democrats.
WATCH: Political Expert Dr. Will De Veyga Weighs In On 2021 New Jersey Gubernatorial Race --
Monmouth and Ocean counties showed up strong to the polls in favor of Ciattarelli. Those counties also voted for Donald Trump in the 2020 presidential election.
"I think that based on who is sitting in office as president, both counties decided go the other way in what they were seeing in Washington. Right or wrong, I think they wanted to go the other way," Lutz said.
In South Jersey, Senate President Steve Sweeney may lose to his Republican opponent. He has served in the Senate since 2002. If it happens, it will mark a major change in the power dynamics of the statehouse.
"It will be interesting to see who is going to control the agenda in the statehouse and will that person work together with the next governor," Hoffman said.
Other issues voters told CBS2 that were important to them included kids having a choice whether or not to wear masks in schools, the ongoing opioid epidemic, and getting people back to work.
CBS2's Meg Baker contributed to this report.
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