TRENTON, N.J. — Democrats must focus on “kitchen table” issues if they’re going to win races for governor next year, New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy said in an interview ahead of his leadership role on the national arm in charge of electing Democrats to governorships.
Murphy, a former Goldman Sachs executive and Obama administration ambassador, is in his first term as governor and will succeed Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo as head of the Democratic Governors Association on Tuesday.
He spoke to The Associated Press on Wednesday about taking on the role, as Democrats look to expand control from 23 governorships compared with Republicans’ 27. Already this year, Democrats won in two Republican-leaning states: Kentucky, defeating a Republican incumbent; and Louisiana, holding on in the Deep South.
Murphy made no mention of Republican President Donald Trump and the impeachment inquiry he faces in the Democrat-led House as he discussed his plan for next year. Instead, Murphy said Democrats should focus on health care and education.
Murphy served as the Democratic National Committee’s finance chairman under former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean until 2009, and indicated he’d draw on that experience as the party faces headwinds in GOP territory like Montana and North Carolina in 2020.
“Focus on kitchen table issues,” Murphy said, “(And) play across a wide map, including places that may appear to be an away game for us.”
The DGA focuses on getting Democrats elected across the country, and part of the job will lead the governor out of state to raise money on behalf of Democratic colleagues.
Murphy contrasted himself with his Republican predecessor Chris Christie, who headed the Republican Governors Association before running for president. Murphy says he won’t do that.
“I don’t have any other aspirations. He quite clearly did,” Murphy said.
Ben Dworkin, director of the Rowan Institute for Public Policy and Citizenship, said the president and impeachment will be factors in races for governor next year, but not the only issues. Dworkin echoed Murphy’s plan for winning over voters.
“Everybody knows whether they like (Trump) or don’t like him. Whether it’s in New Jersey or North Carolina, Maine or Montana, the issues in 2020 will be bread and butter issues — health care costs, education costs, jobs,” he said.
A message was left with the Republican Governors Association seeking a response to Murphy’s becoming chairman of the DGA.