Christine Stuart file photo
Jerry Labriola Jr. (Christine Stuart file photo)

It started out as a three-way race and then swelled to four this weekend, but the race for Republican Party Chairman was back down to two candidates by Sunday.

Ronald Wilcox of Newtown will challenge Jerry Labriola Jr. of Wallingford for the heart and soul of the Connecticut Republican Party tonight in Bristol.

Wilcox, the state coordinator for the Tea Party Patriots, has been calling the 72 members of the Republican State Committee asking for their votes. He even stepped down from his Tea Party post in order to run for the chairmanship.

A third candidate, Wayne Winsley dropped out of the race Sunday and threw his support behind Labriola. He said the current chairman has been “re-energized and is more open to explore and take on some challenges.”

Winsley’s wife, April, on the other hand, was far more blunt on Facebook about how she thought her husband was treated by the party for trying to take on the challenge of its leadership. 

“The bitterness and downright disrespect that comes from not agreeing with everyone on everything. It is IMPOSSIBLE to please all people at all times,” Mrs. Winsley posted on Facebook. “. . . Maybe he is naive in thinking he can effect change in a political party that obviously would eat their young rather than pull together for one cause.”

Paul Bass file photo
Wayne Winsley (Paul Bass file photo)

Winsley is a motivational speaker who challenged U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro in 2012.

He said there seems to be a great amount of “timidity” in the Republican Party when it comes to campaigning in Connecticut’s three largest urban areas. As someone who ran a congressional campaign, “I know we don’t have to change who we are. Voters want clear, delineated options.”

He said the Republican Party needs to have at least a presence in the cities because “time and population have caught up with the Connecticut Republican Party and you can’t win with only the suburbs and small towns.”

If there’s any evidence that the Republican Party is struggling in Connecticut, look no further than its Congressional delegation where there hasn’t been a Republican since 2008. Republicans are also in the minority in the state’s General Assembly and they no longer hold the governor’s office.

Wilcox wasn’t critical of the job Labriola has done. He also wasn’t critical of the job Labriola’s predecessor, Chris Healy, had done with the party.

Healy was mentioned as a possible contender for his old job, but declined to take his supporters up on the offer Sunday. He posted a Facebook comment thanking his supporters for trying to recruit him for the post.

“To put blame on either Healy or Labriola would be wrong,” Wilcox said in a phone interview last week. “This is probably a 10-year cycle of us spiraling down as a party.”

Courtesy of Facebook
Ronald Wilcox (Courtesy of Facebook)

He said Healy was good with messaging and Labriola “has other strengths,” but he is convinced the party needs someone who is able to market the Republican brand to the state’s unaffiliated voters.

“Unaffiliated voters [are the] largest majority of voters and most are center-right, so why aren’t we attracting them?” Wilcox said. “We have to identify what Republicans stand for.”

Wilcox doesn’t believe the Republicans in Connecticut have to be any different than Republicans in the rest of the country. He seems to want to take the party, which is closer to the center in Connecticut on social issues, harder to the right.

He also wanted the Republican Party to take the lead in the recent debate on gun control legislation. Republican legislative leaders supported the bipartisan measure.

Wilcox criticized Labriola for canceling the state central committee meetings in February and March when the debate on guns was taking place in the legislature. He said the party should have decided collectively what the response should have been to that debate.

Wilcox said he would govern in a more “bottom up manner.” He also believes it’s the Republican Town Committees and State Central that should speak for the Republican Party, not the legislative leadership.

Labriola declined an interview for this story, but he did submit a statement.

“I am confident of my re-election as chairman and look forward to continuing to build the Republican Party heading into the municipal elections and the critical 2014 campaign cycle.”

The election will be held at 6 p.m. tonight at Nuchies in Bristol.

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