STAMFORD—The ballroom at the Stamford Plaza was packed. Tables had to be added at the last minute to accommodate the nearly 800 Republicans attending the annual Prescott Bush fundraiser.
The last two days of news and the dinner’s proximity to the convention may have helped with the turnout.
News over the past 48-hours that Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, the Democratic frontrunner in the race for U.S. Sen. Chris Dodd’s seat, at times exaggerated his military record and the Republican Party’s victory at the Supreme Court, which successfully knocked Secretary of the State Susan Bysiewicz off the ballot came up frequently in speeches and during cocktail hour.
“To say the last few days have been interesting is the understatement of the evening,” Republican Party Chairman Chris Healy said Wednesday evening.
“Jane Fonda spent more time in Vietnam than Dick Blumenthal,” Healy joked. “And now Susan Bysiewicz can spend more time on those 10 years of legal practice.”
Before the gloating, which has the Republican candidates closing the gap in the latest U.S. Senate race, got out of hand Healy struck a more serious tone saying the feeling of “victory is fleeting,” and there will be plenty of work to do in the five months leading up to the November election.
Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour, who chairs the Republican Governors Association, struck a similar serious, but collegial tone with the close to 800 Republicans.
Barbour warned the Republican faithful that there are Democrats out there this year running for office trying to paint themselves as moderates.
He used Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ned Lamont as an example.
“Here’s a guy who ran so far left to Lieberman, I thought he was going to fall of the end of the world,” Barbour said with his southern accent. “Now he’s running like a moderate.”
He said this year Republicans will see Democrats mimic the same campaigns as Republicans.
“We have to be prepared to recognize this reality and campaign to it,” Barbour said. “We gotta work that much harder and that much smarter.”
The next five months will be a rollercoaster “hard knuckled ride,” Barbour warned. He said the 2010 election is important and has far reaching implications for what happens in 2012. He said the more Republican governor’s get elected in 2010, the more likely the Republican’s will be in taking back the White House in 2012.
Even in 2008, Barbour argued that Republican governor’s made a difference in some of the swing states.
“A Republican governor can be worth a point or two in some of those states,” Barbour said.
As far as gubernatorial candidates are concerned, all five of them were in attendance working the crowd trying to pick up delegates.
Lt. Gov. Michael Fedele, former Congressman Larry DeNardis, R. Nelson “Oz” Griebel, and C. Duffy Acevedo of Branford and Shelton Mayor Mark Lauretti were all in attendance Wednesday.
Endorsements of some of the candidates have begun to trickle out over the past few weeks, but there were still some prominent Republicans not willing to play their hand, just yet.
Republican Gov. M. Jodi Rell, who was honored for her service at the dinner, was still mum about which of the five candidates she will support.
“I really believe it’s someone else’s time to shine,” Rell said. “I want to let the convention play out. It’s the right thing to do to let the people decide.”
Rell’s predecessor, former Gov. John G. Rowland, was also in attendance surprising at least some of his former colleagues.
It was the first time in several years Rowland, who resigned from office and served close to a year in federal prison after pleading guilty to depriving the public of honest service, attended the dinner.
In what didn’t seem like an awkward moment, Rell and her husband Lou greeted Rowland and his wife Patty as they walked into the dinner Wednesday. Rell said she’s seen Rowland around the past six months in his capacity as Waterbury’s economic development director.
House Minority Leader Lawrence Cafero, R-Norwalk, said he was surprised, but then again, not all that surprised to see the former governor at Wednesday’s dinner.
In a brief interview, Rowland refused to comment on the Republican governor’s race except to say there’s a “great pool of candidates.”
This year’s fundraiser netted the party about $300,000.