UPDATE: 7 p.m. Wednesday: AP calls race for Murphy; governor to deliver victory speech in Asbury Park

UPDATE: 6:35 a.m. — Murphy edges ahead

Gov. Phil Murphy added to his vote total overnight, essentially making this a tied race. Read more details here from Statehouse Bureau Chief Michael Symons.

INTIAL STORY: 1:22 a.m. — Ciattarelli takes the lead

They didn't see this coming.

Republican challenger Jack Ciattarelli didn't emerge a victor on Tuesday night but he was leading Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy with enough of a margin that his Bridgewater election night headquarters was lit up with excitement.

"We want Jack! We want Jack!" supporters chanted after the former Somerset County assemblyman appeared on stage with his smiling wife; his lieutenant governor running mate, former state Sen. Diane Allen; and her husband.

"We want every legal vote counted," Ciattarelli told the crowd.

"We will do this again," Ciattarelli promised. "We will declare victory. Guys, hang in there with me."

Election 2021 New Jersey Governor
People cheering the incoming results at the election night party for Republican gubernatorial candidate Jack Ciattarelli, held at the Bridgewater Marriott hotel in Bridgewater, N.J., Tuesday, Nov. 2, 2021. (AP Photo/Stefan Jeremiah)

With most of the early votes, vote-by-mail ballots and in-person votes counted on Tuesday night, Ciattarelli was leading Murphy with 51% of the vote. But enough votes remained uncounted before Wednesday morning for either side to concede or declare victory.

The scene at Murphy's headquarters at the Asbury Park Convention Hall was more subdued. Murphy, who presided over the state throughout a deadly pandemic, ran on his record of bold progressive causes, including providing driver's licenses to residents in the country illegally, increasing taxes on millionaires, raising the minimum wage (although not immediately to $15) and supporting marijuana legalization (although potential consumers and cannabis entrepreneurs are still waiting for the green light.)

"We're leading with compassion and empathy and not fear and despair," Murphy said after midnight as his children stood behind him. "We're following science and facts, not the political winds. We may not always agree but when we disagree we sit down and treat each other with respect and understanding, always seeking common ground."

Polls leading up to the election showed Murphy in the lead in a state with far more registered Democrats than Republicans. President Joseph Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris, first lady Jill Biden and Vermont U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders were among the marquee names that came to New Jersey to boost Murphy.

"I don't need celebrities," Ciattarelli retorted during his election night speech.

Ciattarelli's campaign painted Murphy as out of touch, criticized the Democrat's handling of the pandemic, particularly the thousands of deaths at long-term care facilities and the state-run veterans' homes, and dodged Murphy's efforts to tie him to former President Donald Trump, who lost New Jersey's electoral votes in 2016 and 2020.

Ciattarelli also promised a softer approach to the pandemic, saying he would not resort to broad mandates on the vaccine.

Ciattarelli said New Jersey's electorate was sending a message to the rest of the country.

"Every single time we've gone too far off track, the people have pushed, pulled and prodded it right back to where it used to be," Ciattarelli said about the state.

The night in New Jersey was a bad omen for Democrats, who lost in Virginia, the only other state with a governor's race a year before the Congressional midterm elections.

Glenn Youngkin won the Virginia governor's race, tapping into culture war fights over schools and race to unite former President Donald Trump's most fervent supporters with enough suburban voters to become the first Republican to win statewide office there in 12 years.

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