For the first time since the retirement of Gov. Lowell Weicker in 1994, Connecticut’s voters will go to the polls unable to elect a new governor as incumbent Gov. M. Jodi Rell will retire from public service at the end of her term.
The eight candidates looking for the Republican nomination to succeed Rell – financial advisor Christopher Duffy Acevedo, Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton, Former U.S. Rep. Larry DeNardis, Lt. Gov. Michael Fedele, former U.S. Ambassador Tom Foley, MetroHartford Alliance Chief Oz Griebel, Chester First Selectman Tom Marsh, and Newington Mayor Jeff Wright – face an uphill climb.
Though Nutmeg State Republicans have held the governor’s office since Weicker’s departure, without the advantage of incumbency they have had little luck appealing to the state’s electorate. The average vote share for non-incumbent Republican candidates for U.S. Senate or governor in the past 20 years has been just 31 percent. Only John G. Rowland’s 36 percent plurality in 1994’s four-way race catapulted him into office.
Given this dismal history, State Republican Convention delegates and August primary voters confront a difficult decision about which prospect can not only appeal to fellow Republicans but also to the significant majority of unaffiliated voters and a sizeable fraction of Democrats necessary to win in the general election.
The early polling released by Quinnipiac this week yields few answers. The majority of respondents simply said they hadn’t heard enough to have an opinion about any of the candidates. Even for the poll’s “leader,” former U.S. Ambassador Tom Foley, 57 percent of the sample said they did not know enough about him.
The situation leaves the Republican field waiting for a breakout moment in which one candidate will successfully define himself in contrast to the others. The State Republican Convention seems like a potential venue, as do any one of the endless candidate forums or debates planned over the next several months.
Last Thursday’s debate televised by NBC Connecticut wasn’t it. As long as cramming eight candidates’ worth of answers into sixty short minutes is the format, debates won’t be useful for much of anything unless a candidate accidentally lights his podium on fire.
Prognosticators already have deemed the gubernatorial contest ripe for the Democratic Party to retake an office they last held in 1990. Charlie Cook of the eponymously named Cook Political Report rates the office as a “toss up,” while the Rothenberg Political Report goes even further by scoring the contest as a “lean takeover” for the Democrats.
Yet if ever there were an argument to be made for balanced government between the Democratic-dominated legislative branch and the executive branch, addressing the state’s cataclysmic budget situation should be it. If Republicans nominate the right candidate, continuing their hold over the governor’s office will be challenging but very possible. Figuring out which candidate fits that bill may prove at least as difficult.
Heath W. Fahle is a policy analyst and consultant based in Manchester. His background in political campaigns includes work for former U.S. Rep. Rob Simmons and the Connecticut Republican Party. He is also the principal of Revolutionary Strategies LLC, a Web site design and consulting firm. Learn more at www.heathwfahle.com