Phil Murphy is an Ivy League-educated former Goldman Sachs executive.
Bernie Sanders worked odd jobs after graduating from the University of Chicago, and has made a career in politics railing against the type of companies that used to employ Murphy.
On paper, it seems unlikely that a democratic socialist like Sanders would say that a former investment banker is, “One of the most progressive, if not the most progressive governor in America,” or that that former investment banker would call someone like Sanders a “political icon.” But it happened Thursday night in New Brunswick.
Murphy, after all, has legalized weed, passed gun control laws and championed the “millionaires’ tax” in his first term as governor. He has been an unexpected pleasant surprise as governor for Garden State progressives, and it’s something that Sanders has taken note of. So much so that he made the trip up the Northeast Corridor to endorse Murphy’s reelection campaign for governor at a campaign rally at Rutgers University.
Murphy, if you didn’t know, is running against former Central Jersey assemblyman Jack Ciattarelli. Polls show Murphy with a lead, but it’s been tightening in the past couple of weeks.
As a result, all shades of democrats have made the trip up to Garden State to campaign for him in recent weeks. Moderates like Sen. Amy Klobuchar and President Joe Biden have all stumped for Murphy. Former President Barack Obama campaigned for Murphy recently in Newark. Thursday night marked a chance for Phil Murphy to shore up his support with college students, and left-leaning Democratic voters, and he brought in a guy, Sanders, who is popular with both types.
Much like his rally playlist of the 1975, Drake and the Black Keys, Sanders brought his greatest hits to the rally: Health care is a human right, ending income inequality, taxing the rich, canceling student debt, supporting women’s reproductive rights and legalizing weed.
And with constant chants of “Bernie, Bernie, Bernie,” the crowd seemed to be digging what the Vermont senator had to say.
“I’ve been following Bernie since I was in high school,” said Seamus Campbell, a Rutgers student from Cape May County. “It’s nice that he’s here and more importantly it’s really important for all the people our age to get involved and take action. I do appreciate what Phil Murphy has done as governor and taking the time to talk to young people about getting involved in politics.”
Even though Campbell cares about the upcoming gubernatorial election, he is kind of surprised about the apathy displayed by his Rutgers classmates about voting in it.
“I’m shocked by the amount of apathy I get from some of the people I talk to, they are like, ‘I’m not concerned,’ and I try to encourage them to be more concerned and take the reins,” Campbell said.
Sanders discussed voter apathy on Thursday night: “I know a lot of your friends say that politics is bullshit, and it’s a waste of time and, ‘Why would you go to a rally if you can go somewhere else?’ But you tell them if they are interested in a clean environment, and interested in getting a decent job, interested in going to school without getting into debt, and interested in women’s rights and gay rights then they have to stop complaining and get involved,” Sanders said in his speech on Thursday night.
But then again apathy was hard to find on the banks of the Raritan River on Thursday. Jasmine Sink, Daniel Smith, Natalia Burkowski—all from Middlesex County and all wearing Bernie merch—came out to see the senator and support Murphy.
“I think he’s our best choice right now,” said Sink about Murphy. “A lot of people think he’s controversial due to his COVID response, but I feel like his COVID response was what we needed. He did what he had to do.
“As somebody who believes in science,” Sink continued, “it’s important to have a person as governor who also believes in science, who knows what will happen in the years to come.”
Murphy’s response to COVID has been one of his defining stories of his first term as governor. While he gained popularity among some people with his approach, he also drew the ire of business owners and people who wanted looser mandates.
Still, Murphy has seen numerous endorsements from unions, and one union member made the trip to Rutgers from South Jersey on Thursday. Kyle Moore, a union railroad worker from Burlington County, says he’s been was impressed with Murphy.
“He passed the $15 minimum wage bill and that is something that will help union members,” Moore said, adding that he would like to see Murphy expand on marijuana laws, and allow people to home grow marijuana.
Part of the reason why Murphy got elected in 2017 was his stated intention to legalize marijuana in NJ, and without COVID, weed would have been the issue that defined his first term. Murphy didn’t forget to remind the young crowd at Rutgers that he legalized recreational marijuana use in NJ—in fact, he mentioned it twice in his speech.
Even though Moore supports Murphy, he ultimately came to Rutgers to see Bernie. “I didn’t really know he existed until he ran in 2015, and I liked a lot of his policies,” said Moore. “Then I looked at his history and how he wouldn’t flip-flop on the issues. I always respected him as a politician, and I don’t usually respect politicians. Most politicians usually break their deal with the working class, and he doesn’t.”
Jared Hull and Oscar Villone, both Rutgers students, respect Bernie, but admittedly have moved to the left of him.
“I’ve always been a bit of a Bernie fan,” said Hull. “I’ve definitely moved to the left of him since the pandemic but it will still be cool to see him.”
Hull got into Bernie because of his stances on criminal justice issues: “My uncle was incarcerated, and I was annoyed by how the criminal justice system operates. He has it better than most since he’s a white guy in the criminal justice system, but seeing how he got treated really opened my eyes to see how people who are more marginalized are screwed over and put in a situation where they have no real chance to thrive or be in a position of power.”
Villone, who also has moved to the left of Sanders, was peer pressured into going to the rally, he said, but is still a fan of the politician. He was sold on Sanders’ Medicare-for-All plan after his family issues in dealing with the health care system in America.
“My older brother has autism and so for a lot of his life, my parents have been forced to pay major bills for therapy and for all of these people trying to help him out with his physical and verbal skills” said Villone. “Bernie appealed to me in that sense, and maybe we can have a different system that differently-abled people like my brother can have a future in this overly-competitive and overly-exploited country.”
Before Tongue Tied by Grouplove played and Sanders and Murphy walked off the stage, they reminded people that early voting is still going on for Friday, Saturday and Sunday, and that election day is Tuesday. Murphy will look to become the first Democratic governor since the 1970s to hold consecutive terms in Trenton.