Tammy Murphy drops out — what does it mean and why did it happen?

Tammy Murphy. (File photo)

The news that first lady Tammy Murphy was dropping her bid to win the Democratic nomination for a U.S. Senate seat certainly was a bombshell Sunday — and questions as to why and what happens next are everywhere.

Hours later, more of the reasons are becoming clear. Here’s an overview of the situation based on the reporting of ROI-NJ and through the reporting of others (for the journalistic record, it appears New Jersey Globe was the first to break the story).

This item is presented in a Q&A format. To be clear, we’re providing the questions and the answers, based on numerous details merged into one.

Q: So, why did Murphy drop her bid?

A: For the same reason every candidate in the history of politics drops their bid: The path to victory was not clear and appeared to be very challenging.

Q: Was this strictly because of the lawsuit challenging the ‘county line’ system that 1) doesn’t seem Democratic, and 2) has drawn a lot of statewide and national attention in the past week?

A: Not entirely. For one, the suit challenging the line could have failed. There were tough legal hurdles that would have had to be overcome. And two, even if ‘the line’ held, there was a growing sense that U.S. Rep. Andy Kim (D-3rd Dist.) would have been able to overcome not getting the line and still win. There were a lot of tough fights against Kim ahead; the county line was just one of them.

Q: Speaking of Kim, Murphy did not mention him by name in her social media announcement pulling out of the race. What do you make of that?

A: Interesting — because she did mention supporting President Joe Biden by name. Reports indicate that she called Kim to inform him of her decision ahead of time.

Q: Speaking of Biden, why was he mentioned — what did he have to do with this decision?

A: In a year when the president is running for reelection, Murphy said she did not want to run a campaign where one Democrat was tearing down another Democrat (though she certainly had been taking shots at Kim in previous weeks — to be fair, something all candidates do). Murphy would have had to attack Kim to win — and she said she didn’t want to do that.

Q: Should she be applauded for bringing that sense of civility to politics?

A: If you feel that’s the only reason she pulled out of the race, then, yes.

Q: What other reasons are out there?

A: In addition to the fear around losing the line, there was a real concern that she might not even win the nomination with the line — and a real fear that she might not win the general election if she won the nomination. Remember, no Democrat has lost a general election for a U.S. Senate seat in New Jersey since 1972.

Q: Anything else?

A: There was a growing sense that she could hurt the party down ballot.

Q: Anything else?

A: There was a growing sense that the race was going to cost a lot more money than originally thought.

Q: But she’s been crushing opponents in fundraising. Doesn’t that mean a lot?

A: Yes. But as Republican U.S. Senate nominee Bob Hugin found out in 2018, money isn’t everything.

Q: And she had the support of nearly every leading Democratic official. Doesn’t that mean a lot?

A: Normally, yes. But, it’s unclear this year. Many felt Murphy was able to gather an unprecedented level of support because her husband is governor — fairly or unfairly. That appeared to rub a lot of people the wrong way. And it was one of the reasons that led to a huge grassroots effort to support Kim. Polls showed Murphy was struggling to get that type of support from the general public.

Q: Speaking of Kim, what does he have to say about all this?

A: He was very gracious Sunday, saying he respected her decision and that ‘unity is vital.’ However, there has to be a certain satisfaction knowing that you took on the governor — and the political powerbrokers — and won.

Q: About those powerbrokers. Does this mean the power of the county chairs is over?

A: Far from it. Some type of reform for the ballot certainly is coming, whether that is led by a court decision or the Legislature (which suddenly is interested in discussing a system they all have benefited from). That being said, county party officials still will have a lot of power in statewide and, more importantly, local elections. Remember, all politics is local.

Q: Last question: Is this the end of the Murphy political dynasty?

A: You’d be foolish to count them out. The governor is a skilled politician — and plenty of politicians have come back from a bad defeat. As governor, he still wields an enormous amount of power, even as a lame duck. But, is that power and influence lesser today than it was yesterday? Absolutely. That’s what made this all so surprising.