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Defiant Jack Ciattarelli Still Not Conceding New Jersey Governor's Race To Incumbent Phil Murphy

JERSEY CITY, N.J. (CBSNewYork) -- Not all of the ballots have been counted yet in the New Jersey's governor's race, but CBS News is projecting Gov. Phil Murphy as the winner, which would make him the first Democratic governor in more than four decades to win re-election in the Garden State.

Currently, with 99% of precincts reporting, Gov. Murphy has 51% of the vote, while Republican Jack Ciattarelli has 49%. The spread is around 44,000 votes, CBS2's John Dias reported Thursday.

After an incredibly close contest, Murphy declared himself the winner on Wednesday night and on Thursday took a deep breath and let off some steam, CBS2's Dick Brennan reported.

READ MORENew Jersey Election Results 2021

Speaking at an NJEA convention, a relaxed Murphy joked about being in front of a friendly crowd of educators, something he hasn't been used to lately.

"I'm sorry for being taken aback, because over the past several months when people in the crowd have spoken up, they've used a little language a little more colorful than yours. So let me say it's awfully good to be playing a home game. We are in a knucklehead-free room," Murphy said.

"As you can imagine, I have not slept much this week. So there's no telling what's gonna come out of my mouth if I stay up here long. I'm gonna have to wrap this up in a couple of minutes because otherwise there's no telling where we're headed. Is the bar open yet?" he added.

Ciattarelli, however, has still not conceded, even though both The Associated Press and CBS News have projected Murphy the victor.

The Ciattarelli campaign took to Twitter, writing, "With the candidates separated by a fraction of a percent out of 2.4 million ballots cast, it's irresponsible of the media to make this call when the New Jersey secretary of state doesn't even know how many ballots are left to be counted."

The Republican released a video message Thursday, saying, "Currently, Governor Murphy and I are separated by about 1% and for 2.4 million ballots counted. There are still tens of thousands of vote-by-mail and provisional ballots yet to be counted, and so the governor's victory speech last night was premature. No one should be declaring victory or conceding the election until every legal vote is counted."

WATCH: Ciattarelli Not Conceding Yet As Murphy Projected As Winner --

When asked if he is surprised that Ciattarelli hasn't conceded, political expert Will de Veyga said, "No, it doesn't surprise me. I wouldn't have conceded, either."

He said the Republican challenger's base would expect him to fight to the end.

"I think he'll ask for the recount, and the grounds exist for him to ask for it, and I just think that's the tenor of politics these days," de Veyga said.

Former President Donald Trump never officially conceded to President Joe Biden in 2020, but nearly two months after Election Day said a new administration was taking over.

All that said, many political experts and former politicians say, at this point, a Ciattarelli win is a pipe dream.

"They may want to do that to show party adherence, that they are fighting for every vote, but I don't think this election result is going to change no matter what anybody says," former state Legislator John Wisniewski said.

Wisniewski spent 22 years in the Legislature. In 2017, he ran against Murphy in the primary. He said this time around, the governor got what polls anticipated -- 50% of the vote -- but, "It seems like, remarkably, almost all of those undecided voters went for Jack Ciattarelli. That's certainly a wake-up call for New Jersey Democrats."

The two candidates were in a dead heat since the polls closed and traded leads as the returns came in.

"It was stressful that it was close," Murphy supporter Michael Guerrero said.

Other supporters of the governor said they know the Democrat's lead was and is razor thin and there are absentee ballots and other votes still to count. Nonetheless, they are happy.

"Relieved, honestly, completely relieved," one said.

"Nice to see him back in office," added Ariel Kostrinsky of Jersey City.

Some political experts blamed a lack of enthusiasm for the tight race.

A recount is not automatic in New Jersey, but Ciattarelli could request one within 17 days.

CBS2's Dick Brennan contributed to this report.

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