New Jersey GOP candidate for governor aims to make Murphy nursing home order issue in 2021 race

Republican candidate for New Jersey governor Jack Ciattarelli is attacking Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy over his 2020 order that nursing homes accept coronavirus-positive patients from hospitals.

In a television ad first obtained by Fox News, Ciattarelli lambastes Murphy over the deaths of seniors to the coronavirus. The ad is likely a preview of what’s to come in the 2021 governor’s race, as Murphy is put on the defensive over his handling of the pandemic. 

Murphy’s order on March 31, 2020 is similar to the one that New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has received harsh criticism over. Other governors, like Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican, took a different tact and focused on keeping those with the virus out of nursing homes, even as his state wasn’t as locked down as New York or New Jersey.


Many, especially Republicans, believe that Murphy’s order contributed to the fact New Jersey has the highest coronavirus deaths per capita of any state in the U.S., according to Statista. New York is second. 

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy's at a news conference regarding the COVID-19 cases at the War Memorial in Trenton, N.J. on Saturday, April 11, 2020. (Chris Pedota/The Record via AP, Pool)

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy’s at a news conference regarding the COVID-19 cases at the War Memorial in Trenton, N.J. on Saturday, April 11, 2020. (Chris Pedota/The Record via AP, Pool)

Ciattarelli, a former state legislator, lays the responsibility for New Jersey’s nursing home deaths squarely at Murphy’s feet in the ad that will start running in the state Wednesday. 

“Scared and alone. That’s how 8,000 seniors and veterans died in our nursing homes during this pandemic,” Ciattarelli says in the ad. “They died because Governor Murphy ordered nursing homes to take in COVID-19 patients.”

He continues: “The pandemic isn’t easy. We get it. But Phil Murphy’s failures made it worse. Vaccinating inmates before seniors, refusing to open our schools, forcing people to wait months before their unemployment, and shutting down small businesses, some forever.”

Ciattarelli’s campaign will spend more than $1 million running that ad and one other statewide through the Philadelphia and New York City DMAs. 

Murphy has responded to the criticism from Republicans over his nursing homes decision by pointing out the steps his administration took to address numerous outbreaks in facilities, including mandatory grouping of those with the virus away from others and halting visits.

When Republicans in the state legislature held a hearing on Murphy’s nursing homes decision this month, the governor responded by saying that he didn’t “begrudge anyone’s right to assess what’s going on.” He also attributed the state getting “clobbered” in nursing homes to the fact it is near New York. 

Meanwhile, a report by New Jersey Advance Media indicates that Murphy’s administration was told before issuing his March 31 order that it would likely result in seniors dying who otherwise would have lived.

“Patients will die,” one unnamed administrator told New Jersey Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli, according to the report. “You understand that by asking us to take COVID patients, by demanding we take COVID patients, that patients will die in nursing homes that wouldn’t have otherwise died had we screened them out.”


Perichilli was also told that separating wings of a nursing home was not a feasible task for the facilities. 

Ciattarelli is also releasing a separate ad that details his roots in New Jersey, as the June 8 GOP primary for New Jersey governor nears. He is considered the frontrunner in that race — the Philadephia Inquirer said Ciattarelli “is seen as the presumptive GOP nominee.”

New Jersey is typically a very blue state in statewide elections. But the governor’s seat has gone to Republicans in the past as recently as 2013 when Chris Christie won that race. 

Fox News’ Houston Keene and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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