Right as Gov. Phil Murphy gets set to ramp up his reelection campaign, the spread of the Delta variant is pushing COVID cases and hospitalizations higher than they’ve been in months.

How could this impact the election in the fall?

Patrick Murray, the director of the Monmouth University Polling Institute, said if the pandemic continues to get worse and mask mandates are reinstated in schools those opposed may get loud.

“But when you look at the raw numbers, they (those opposed to masks) are in the minority. We have seen throughout the pandemic that a majority of parents want their children protected, particularly when some have the vaccine and some can’t get the vaccine,” he said.

Murray noted many Republicans may not support a return to forced masking in indoor public areas but the governor’s Democratic base almost certainly will.

"It may be more dangerous for Phil Murphy if he doesn’t go back and bring back some of those regulations that we had at the beginning of the pandemic," Murray said.

Ben Dworkin, the director of the Institute for Public Policy & Citizenship at Rowan University, said New Jersey residents have generally supported how the governor has handled things.

“He has been cautious and I think a majority of the electorate wanted a leader who was going to be straight and honest and cautious,” he said.

Murray agreed that while most New Jerseyans are sick of the pandemic and all of the restrictions that have gone along with it, many approve of Murphy’s cautious approach to dealing with it.

“If the number of cases goes up and he doesn’t institute some sort of return to masking and social distancing then he could pay a price," Murray said.

Dworkin doesn’t expect the governor to announce any new mask policy for schools, if he does at all, until probably late next month.

“Given that there’s a solid month before anybody goes back to elementary school or high school, there’s no reason for a final decision to be made earlier,” he said.

Even though the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is now calling for all school children to mask up in the fall and everyone else, including those who are vaccinated, to wear masks indoors in areas with high numbers of cases, so far the governor is only “strongly recommending” masks in crowded public places.

Murray said while Murphy has a solid majority of voters who support him, the election is still more than three months away and making predictions right now is incredibly difficult.

“There are a number of things we don’t know, and the key one is whether the number of cases is going to continue to go up or will they plateau or will they go back down, and what is Phil Murphy’s response to that,” he said.

 

Murray said comments made by Murphy’s gubernatorial opponent, Jack Ciattarelli, about how he would handle vaccination and masking issues don’t carry a lot of weight right now because Democrats far outnumber Republicans in New Jersey.

He said for the GOP candidate to have a chance in November, “it would require Murphy to make a major mistake. There’s nothing Ciattarelli can do on his own to change the tenor of this conversation.”

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