ASBURY PARK, NJ - The Rev. Ronald Slaughter, pastor of St. James AME Church in Newark, said it best for Democrats in the state's largest city, and around the state of New Jersey, as the winning vote totals rolled in for Democratic gubernatorial candidate Phil Murphy.
"My prayers have been answered," said Slaughter on Tuesday night inside the Asbury Park Convention Hall as the crowd at Murphy's victory rally exploded with joy around him. "The people of Newark will finally have a governor who has their back, and the people of New Jersey will finally have a chance to make our state a better place for all of its people."
The devotion of New Jersey and national Democrats were answered on Election Day as Murphy won a massive victory over Republican candidate Kim Guadagno by a blowout 56 percent to 43 percent margin, according to unofficial results.
"Tonight, we declare that the days of division are over. We will move forward together," Murphy said, as he was joined onstage by Assemblywoman Sheila Oliver (D-34), a Newark native and Weequahic High School graduate, now soon to be the first African-American lieutenant governor. "This is exactly who we are, New Jersey. We have each other's backs."
"We have been failed by leadership that forgot how to dream big," Murphy added, a swipe as both the outgoing GOP Gov. Chris Christie and Guadagno, who served as Christie's lieutenant governor for eight years. "I firmly believe that New Jersey's best days are ahead of us."
Murphy's constant campaign presence often brought him through New Brunswick and Middlesex County, critical players in state Democratic politics.
But it began in Newark in May 2016, where he prayed at the Rev. Slaughter's church on the day he announced he was entering the race. Murphy's time spent in Newark set him apart from his intra-party rivals. His continuous shoe-leather campaign work on the streets of the Brick City in many ways built the foundation of his victory.
The former U.S. Ambassador to Germany and retired Goldman Sachs executive launched his campaign early, campaigning in the state's largest city well before potential rivals, Jersey City Mayor Steve Fulop or state Senate President Steve Sweeney, had an opportunity to jump into the race.
Fulop and Sweeney unexpectedly withdrew their names from gubernatorial contention by October, which cleared a path for Murphy among party insiders, who closed ranks around the candidate last fall on the steps in front of the Essex County Historic Courthouse in Newark.
Murphy had significant help from Democrats around the nation during his campaign, including from former President Barack Obama, who campaigned for Murphy last month at a rally at the Robert Treat Hotel in downtown Newark.
And as the song "You'll Never Walk Alone" played, Murphy told those assembled in Asbury Park, the people of Newark, and the whole of New Jersey, that they won't be alone when he is sworn in as New Jersey's 56th governor in January.
"It won't be easy, and it certainly won't be overnight," Murphy said. "But let there be no doubt: starting here, starting now, and starting with us, New Jersey is coming back."