Christine Stuart Photo
Malloy claims victory. (Christine Stuart Photo)
Melissa Bailey photo
Family surrounds Lamont at his concession speech (Melissa Bailey photo)

Public financing beat a millionaire’s bank account in Tuesday’s Democratic primary for governor, as Dan Malloy defeated Ned Lamont by a convincing margin. Meanwhile, Republicans turned rightward in the attorney general primary.

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Connecticut’s Democratic gubernatorial primary Tuesday over Greenwich businessman Ned Lamont. Malloy claimed a come-from-behind victory not just for him, but also for public financing in state elections.

Lamont spent over $9 million on the race, $8.6 million of it his own scratch. That’s more money than any gubernatorial candidate has ever spent on a campaign in Connecticut history—not just for a primary, but for a primary and general election combined. Malloy had $2.75 million to spend, most of it from the state’s public financing program.

Yet Malloy won decisively, despite polls predicting a tight race.

“That’s a lot of money, even for a rich guy” to spend on a losing race, two-time gubernatorial candidate Bill Curry remarked in a Connecticut public radio roundtable on the primary.

The result vindicated Malloy’s message to voters in Connecticut, and nationally: That public financing can give a candidate enough money to compete fairly against millionaire newcomers who try to buy elections with personal fortunes, even if the candidate doesn’t have a one-to-one match.

State Sen. Andrew McDonald of Stamford said he’s hopeful that Malloy’s win means “great ideas outweigh great bank accounts.”

State Rep. Michael Lawlor of East Haven echoed McDonald’s conclusion that the primary proved that public financing is a viable option. He said he thinks there was a really big “ick factor” about self-financing millionaires running among Democrats.

In a victory speech in Hartford, Malloy claimed victory in the name of some 4,000 people who made small donations to his campaign so he could qualify for Connecticut’s Clean Election Program. He said they made “sure that on this day we could stand together and stand behind clean elections in the state of Connecticut.”

Asked at a subsequent press conference what his victory means, Malloy responded, “You need at least $2.5 million to win a primary.”

He’ll test his campaign finance message again in 13 weeks, when he faces Republican Tom Foley, another self-financed millionaire businessman candidate, in the general election.

Some other results Tuesday night were more expected: Foley defeated Michael Fedele and Oz Griebel in the GOP gubernatorial primary. Linda McMahon defeated Rob Simmons and Peter Schiff in the GOP U.S. Senate primary. She spent $22 million.

Lamont’s running mate, lieutenant governor candidate Mary Glassman, offered the first concession speech at 9:45 p.m.

She praised her opponent, Malloy running mate Nancy Wyman, whom Glassman trashed in campaign mailings during the campaign.

“Now it’s time for Democrats to come together,” Glassman said.

At Malloy’s Hartford victory party, state Party Chairwoman Nancy DiNardo expressed confidence that that will happen.

“I’m confident we will be able to heal,” DiNardo said.

The first indication that Lamont was in trouble was a 2-1 Malloy victory in Manchester, a bellwether Hartford suburb expected to be close.

Early returns showed Malloy with 57 percent of the vote.

That was especially remarkable because Lamont had many more vote-pullers on the street in New Haven, Bridgeport and Hartford. Returns at 10:15 p.m. actually had Malloy in a dead heat in New Haven pending the tabulation of absentee ballots—even though New Haven’s mayor and political machine backed Lamont. Lamont did win New Haven’s black vote, quashing hopes of African-American politicos that they could mount a challenge to the city’s party machine. But Malloy prevailed in high-turnout liberal white wards in East Rock and Westville—bastions of his 2006 U.S. Senate campaign against Joe Lieberman.

The night turned out quite differently from primary night in 2006, when Malloy lost the Democratic gubernatorial primary to New Haven John DeStefano.

Former Lt. Gov. Kevin Sullivan, who supported DeStefano in 2006, said the difference between this year and four years ago was the gravitation of labor support to Malloy and the number of ground troops he had. He said Lamont’s negative advertisements actually lost him support.

“The last round of negative ads struck people as so over the top,” Sullivan said.

Malloy ran stronger than expected in suburbs. Sullivan said there were so many Malloy campaigners in West Hartford Tuesday that they were tripping over each other.

Malloy’s decision to add state Comptroller Nancy Wyman as his lieutenant governor running mate was “just icing on the cake,“ Sullivan said.

Message Deficit?

The low turnout—expected to be 30 percent or less—had Democrats worried about the November general election.

“Democrats better wake up and realize there are big differences at stake,” said party activist Ed Anderson, watching the slow leak of returns and soaking in the somber mood at Lamont headquarters.

The answer lies in concentrating on a clear message, said New Haven Mayor John DeStefano.

DeStefano (pictured) arrived around 8:45 p.m. to Ned Lamont’s post-election gathering at Bridgeport’s Testo’s Restaurant (owned by Bridgeport’s Democratic machine boss). DeStefano was handed a VIP pass. Instead, he walked into the grand ballroom, where Bridgeport politicos and campaign staff milled around over plates of pigs-in-blanket and spanakopita. They watched early results come in on projectors.

The buzz in the air was about how few voters showed up to the polls.

New Haven, like the rest of the state, appears to be suffering from “incredibly low turnout,” the mayor noted.

He said there didn’t seem to be a message, or issue, that drove people to the polls.

“I don’t think there was an overwhelming issue difference between these two candidates” in the gubernatorial Democratic primary, DeStefano said.

When DeStefano ran four years ago in a very close primary over Malloy, health care became a driving issue, and both candidates drafted detailed plans for universal health care.

“I didn’t see that happen this year,” DeStefano said.

The mayor said he’d like to see the final numbers for voter turnout before making any conclusions, but early results make him concerned that “voters are feeling turned off,” that “they don’t know why to come out to vote.”

If the voter turnout is as low as is being predicted, “it’s not a good message for Democrats,” DeStefano said. “The message: You really need to be clear with voters about why you’re” running for office. There needs to be a clearer message, he said, than the “more thematic advertisements that you saw.”

That message clearly needs to be about jobs, Lamont said in his concession speech, as his daughters teared up standing behind him.

“Democrats stand up and say, ‘We’re going to fight for your jobs,’” Lamont counseled. “Don’t let those jobs go to India. Don’t let those jobs go to Singapore.”

Momentum Carried To Primary Day

At the polls Tuesday, Malloy’s momentum was clearly visible.

In Windsor State Rep. David Baram, said during the last week of the campaign, he saw a shift from Lamont to Malloy partially related to the negative campaign ads. New Haven residents Bill and Pat Taylor agreed.

Retiree theater techie Bill Taylor of New Haven’s Westville neighborhood said he had trouble deciding between Democratic gubernatorial candidates Ned Lamont and Dan Malloy. “The campaign made the difference. It turned me against Lamont,” Taylor said.

It didn’t matter to Taylor that Malloy was the first candidate to air negative ads. (Read more on voters’ reactions to negative ads in the campaign here.)

Tuesday night, Lamont was asked about his barrage of negative ads.

Republicans Turn Right?

Meanwhile, another dramatic result occurred in the Republican primary for attorney general, where Martha Dean easily beat Ross Garber.

Dean is a conservative follower of the Tea Party movement, which is pulling the Republican Party even more to the right on issues like taxes than it had drifted in the Reagan and Bush years. Garber is the quintessential moderate Connecticut Yankee, a fiscally conservative and socially liberal Republican comfortable in old-money towns like Greenwich.

Dean won her party’s endorsement at the May convention. But that’s because Garber wasn’t in the race yet; he was waiting to see if her sister-in-law, Susan Bysiewicz, was going to continue her pursuit of the Democratic nomination for attorney general. (She dropped out.) When he entered, even though Dean had the state party’s nomination, Greenwich’s Republican Party nevertheless voted to support Garber.

“Going negative was not my nature,” Lamont insisted.

“I didn’t want anybody to vote against somebody. I wanted to give them somebody to vote for. We responded to some tactics. Look, the tactics of politics is not what gets me going, it’s turning this state around and I’m going to stay involved one way or the other.”

Reporting: Paul Bass, Melissa Bailey, Christine Stuart, Allan Appel, Gwyneth Shaw, Loretta Waldman, Melinda Tuhus, Jay Dockendorf, Christopher Boulay.