Democratic gubernatorial candidate Phil Murphy is known for being congenial when encountered up close and personal, often using his natural Irish gift of the gab.
But on the weekend before his Election Day showdown with Republican gubernatorial candidate Kim Guadagno, Murphy's megawatt smile was shut down when he spoke at a pre-election rally in the heart of Newark.
Instead, he stepped up to the microphone and announced that on Tuesday, political school is in session. And, according to Murphy, Guadagno, bound by party ties to Gov. Chris Christie and President Donald Trump, is going to learn a lesson on Election Day.
"Look at what we're running against, Chris Christie and Kim Guadagno. First, they left the middle class behind. Then, they never had an urban agenda, so they had nothing to leave behind there," said Murphy at a rally on Saturday attended by more than 350 people at the Golden Dome Athletic Center on the Rutgers-Newark campus between downtown and the University Heights neighborhood.
"They crushed those dreams in this state, and left behind the dreams of those who aspired to be in the middle class. Now, they've left the truth behind. They're making stuff up. They're throwing rocks. They're throwing mud. They're changing the subject. They're pitting up against them," Murphy added, stabbing the air with his pointed index finger.
"They have no shame. They'll do anything. So we have to return fire, but in our way, not their way - with energy, clarity, vision, and passion," Murphy said.
Murphy is no stranger to Newark. The former U.S. Ambassador to Germany and retired Goldman Sachs executive launched his campaign early, in May 2016, 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 returned to Brick City just before Tuesday's election, his allies rhetorically armed for the final battle against Guadagno, who has served as Christie's lieutenant governor for almost eight years.
"The other side is trying the boogeyman scare tactics, particularly in the suburbs, to get people to come out and vote. The only way that we combat that is that we have to go to the polls. This election is entirely up to us - Essex, Passaic, Hudson and Middlesex counties," said New Jersey State Democratic Chairman John Currie, listing the Garden State counties most loaded with Democratic votes.
"And I want to see my sister, Sheila Oliver, as the first African-American lieutenant governor in this state," Currie said.
Assemblywoman Oliver (D-34), a Newark native and a Weequahic High School graduate, came back to her hometown to remind the crowd what needs to get done to ensure a win for the Murphy-Oliver ticket.
"At the age of 18, I took the bus from the South Ward of Newark [to the Essex County Clerk's office]. I walked up those steps, and I registered to vote," Oliver said. "Your vote is your power. Your vote is your voice. Your power is in your hands. Voting matters, and who sits in the governor's chair absolutely matters. But what is even more important is who we vote for. And our votes should reflect our values."
Essex County Democratic Chairman LeRoy Jones, Jr., rocking an ensemble that included a black with white-polka dot pocket square, and Essex County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo, Jr., holding up his granddaughter, traded boasts that Essex will have New Jersey's highest plurality vote total.
Democrat U.S. Rep. Donald Payne, Jr., who represents Newark, strode up to the podium while the DJ played Jay-Z. Payne's message: Newark has got 99 problems with Kim Guadagno, especially one.
"That disgusting ad about those gang murders in Vailsburg - she does not deserve to be governor just based on that. She has disqualified herself," said Payne, a reference to a horrible 2007 incident in a Newark neighborhood schoolyard that left four college-age friends shot down execution-style behind Mount Vernon School.
The shootings are being used by Guadagno in a highly negative attack ad slamming Murphy. The incendiary inference of the ad is that Murphy's move to make New Jersey a sanctuary state for undocumented immigrants will result in more crime, including murder.
"Let's send her a message from Newark: you're not going to use our children to scare other people to support you," Payne said.
The anger shown by Sen. M. Teresa Ruiz (D-29) was provoked by the man who presently occupies the White House. Ruiz, who comes from Newark's largely Latino North Ward, tied Trump, a GOP member like Guadagno, to a major problem from a Puerto Rican perspective.
"We have someone who has turned his back on Puerto Ricans on the island in the midst of its biggest crisis," Ruiz said, commenting on the Trump administration's tepid relief aid response in the wake of Hurricane Maria. "We are going to send a clear message to this country that in New Jersey, we do things a little bit differently. In New Jersey, we stand up for people."
Former Newark mayor and current U.S. Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) reminded the crowd how Trump became the country's chief executive in the first place.
"I remember last year, when everybody said the election was in the bag," said Booker, who was a widely-deployed surrogate speaker for Hillary Clinton before the 2016 Democratic presidential candidate went down in defeat to Trump, an open wound for Democrats nationwide that has yet to fully heal.
"We didn't come out to vote. And when good people don't vote, bad people get elected," Booker said. "I've known Phil Murphy for about 20 years now. We couldn't hope for a better David to go up against Goliath down there in Washington."