In the face of a national Republican landslide that punished incumbents in the midterm elections, Connecticut stayed true to its nickname.
At least in the executive branch, the Land Steady of Habits bucked the trend that made life miserable for Democrats. We returned an unpopular incumbent Democratic governor to office and re-elected every constitutional officer and member of Congress — all of whom were Democrats. What Republican wave, you ask?
Republican chief executives who had dismal approval ratings similar to Malloy’s defied conventional wisdom and found a way to win. We’ve been hearing for months that Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback was in trouble after having signed deep tax cuts that throttled popular services. But old Brownie won by almost four points. Now Thomas Frank will have to ask, once again, what’s the matter with his home state?
Florida Gov. Rick Scott, a businessman who comes across as an even bigger jerk than Malloy’s businessman opponent Tom Foley, still eked out a victory over former Republican/Democratic/independent governor Charlie Crist. In deep-blue Illinois, Republican challenger Bruce Rauner defeated incumbent Gov. Pat Quinn by almost five points on a promise to make the state “compassionate and competitive.”
Finally, incumbent Wisconsin GOP Gov. Scott Walker won again. We’ve been hearing for months how Walker has ruined his once-progressive state, but he is quite possibly the only governor in U.S. history to win three elections in four years — and in Walker’s case, he won all three by between six and seven points, including a recall election in which he actually increased his margin of victory by a percentage point. And unlike Malloy, who was also re-elected, Walker is clearly poised for a White House run in 2016.
Completing the mind-blowing wave, Republicans picked up seven Senate seats and 12 House seats. And after ballots are counted in Alaska and a run-off election is held in Louisiana, GOP gains could grow.
In the Connecticut General Assembly, the GOP picked up 10 House seats and gained a single Senate seat, giving Republicans their biggest caucus in 20 years, enough votes to block any attempt increase in the constitutional spending cap and a working majority on legislation that can attract the support of moderate Democrats.
Among New England governors’ races, an unpopular Republican was re-elected in Maine, while a Democrat held on in New Hampshire and, perhaps in Vermont where the Democratic-dominated legislature might decide the race because of a quirk in the state constitution. And in Rhode Island, a Democrat was elected governor for the first time since 1992, but she is perhaps best known as the state treasurer who overhauled the state’s wretched pension system, angering the public employee unions who subsequently refused to support her gubernatorial candidacy.
But the happiest moment for the right in New England had to be Republican Charlie Baker’s narrow victory over Martha Coakley in the Massachusetts governor’s race. Coakley had won the Democratic primary over Treasurer Steve Grossman largely on the strength of name recognition, but was hampered in the general election by a lack of enthusiasm for her candidacy after an embarrassing loss to Scott Brown in the 2010 special-election to fill the seat of the late Sen. Teddy Kennedy.
Notwithstanding the giddiness Republicans felt across the country — and among close watchers of the General Assembly — the fact remains that the Connecticut GOP couldn’t unseat an unpopular governor with a mediocre economic record and, by his own admission, a problematic personality.
It took awhile but perhaps Connecticut Republicans have finally learned their lesson. During the last four years in four races for the highest offices in the state, the GOP has twice run the same pair of businesspersons — wealthy, mostly self-funding political novices from Greenwich.
Memo to the GOP: Your grassroots success in fielding winning candidates for the General Assembly should tell you something about retaking the mansion at 990 Prospect Avenue. Nominate gubernatorial candidates who a) know what they’re talking about, and b) don’t have to apologize for being rich and for making questionable business decisions that harmed the little people. That would be a start anyway.
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