TRENTON – Perhaps the governor’s race isn’t quite as close as it had appeared.

A new Monmouth University Poll released Wednesday shows Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy maintaining his lead over Republican challenger Jack Ciattarelli, 50% to 39%. That’s a bit closer than past Monmouth polls, such as a 13-point gap in September, but not as close as other surveys, like one last week by Emerson College showing a 6-point race.

Poll director Patrick Murray said a range of models of the electorate show Murphy’s edge is between 8 and 14 points.

“While that’s down from our 13-point margin in September, that really isn’t all that much,” Murray said. “In fact, when we look at the demographics, there’s not a lot that’s shifted. The only number that I can see is senior voters, those age 65 older, that Murphy’s advantage there has gotten smaller since September. He’s only got a 5-point lead with that group in particular.”

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The 50% to 39% race is among registered voters – though that’s not usually still used as the measuring stick with one week until Election Day. There’s a similar 51% to 40% edge for Murphy using a traditional likely voter model, and the other models range from a 50% to 42% race to a 52% to 38% race.

“The question is about turnout – who’s going to show up,” Murray said. “There has been a slight gap formed between Democrats and Republicans in terms of their motivation to vote. Republicans are about 5 points more motivated to vote. That is why we’re seeing a race that is at 11 points, rather than the fundamental split in New Jersey, which is about 17 points if you just look at voter registration and where Democrats have that advantage.”

Ciattarelli actually leads among those who intend to vote on Election Day, somewhere between 5 points and 12 points, depending on the turnout model. But Murphy is ahead by a more than 2-to-1 margin among people who have already voted or intend to do so early.

Ciattarelli leads narrowly among self-described independents, 41% to 40%. But Murphy holds onto 93% of Democrats, and that stakes him to a lead given the overwhelming Democratic tilt of New Jersey’s electorate.

Other results in the poll show a political climate shifting in Republicans’ favor.

Their voters say they’re more enthused than usual for a governor’s race – 38%, compared to 24% of Democrats – and President Joe Biden’s approval ratings have slipped to 43% approve, 49% disapproved, down from a +10 net margin in August. But Murphy’s approval ratings remain level at a net of +13.

“The key here is that some Democrats are just, simply, their excitement is tamped down, not because of what’s happening in the state but because of what’s happening in Washington, D.C.,” Murray said. “… It’s the gridlock in Washington, the fact that Democrats thought there were going to get more done than they have.”

Taxes, the only issue on which voters clearly trust Ciattarelli more than Murphy, has become the top issue for voters, cited by 27%. That’s followed by jobs/economy and education, pushing the pandemic – long a strength for Murphy – down to fourth. (Education normally that high?)

Ciattarelli is just as unknown leading into the election – with 40% having no opinion of him – as Kim Guadagno in 2017 and Barbara Buono in 2013. Even Murphy was unknown by 34% of voters at the time of the 2017 election.

Early voting locations in each NJ county

Each county in the state will have between three and 10 early voting locations, open daily for the 2021 general election from Oct. 23 through Oct. 31. The sites will be open from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. except for Sundays, when they will close at 6 p.m.

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In each region of New Jersey, farms are offering a large range of fall festivities and attractions — here's a roundup.