ctnewsjunkie file photo
Republican candidates on stage after debate at RHAM High School in Hebron (ctnewsjunkie file photo)

HARTFORD, CT —The debate over which candidates should be on stage Wednesday for the third Republican gubernatorial debate has already begun.

There are 10 candidates, all male, who were invited to the debate based on criteria decided more than a year ago by the candidates or their representatives, according to Republican Party Chairman JR Romano.

That means New Britain Mayor Erin Stewart and Sen. Toni Boucher, R-Wilton, who was on stage for the first two debates, won’t be invited to participate.

Both candidates are still “exploring” whether the position of governor is really the one they want.

Romano said the threshold to make it into the third debate was the candidate would have had to officially declare their intention to run for governor and raise $125,000. The threshold for the first two debates was $75,000 and there was no criteria for being a declared candidate.

Regardless, Stewart tweeted that she’s looking for donations to get on the debate stage, but she didn’t ask for the rules to be changed.

“I want on the @CTGOP debate stage. Donate today to send the message that I belong up there!,” Stewart tweeted Monday.

A campaign supporter said she will be doing her own thing Wednesday to get her voice heard.

Joe Visconti, who is also running for the Republican nomination for governor but hasn’t met any of the fundraising thresholds to get into any of the debates, invited Stewart to debate him in the lobby of Notre Dame High School in West Haven. That’s where the debate is being held. It begins at 7 p.m.

Some Republican candidates believe both Boucher and Stewart should be allowed on stage even though they don’t meet the criteria.

Shelton Mayor Mark Lauretti said “It is very important for the Connecticut Republican Party to be seen as the inclusive party that we are. We must allow voters to see all of our candidates and judge them on their electability. To that end, Senator Boucher and Mayor Stewart should be included.”

Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton took a similar approach.

“While understanding the challenges of managing such a large field of gubernatorial candidates and potential candidates, accommodations should be made to allow Toni Boucher and Erin Stewart to participate in the debate,” Boughton said. “The Connecticut Republican Party is fortunate to have many strong female leaders on all levels of government and their policies and ideas should be welcomed, not dismissed – let them in.”

Rep. Prasad Srinivasan, R-Glastonbury, posted on his Facebook page that the party should “Open the Floodgates.”

He said the “Grand Old Party (GOP) has become a mosaic of women and men of all backgrounds and of all races. It is no longer a rich man’s club or an all boy’s club.”

He added: “Let us celebrate our diversity, welcome the next generation of leaders and open the debates regardless of funds raised or the office being explored.”

Former Trumbull Mayor Tim Herbst said he would love to see the two female candidates participate if they become full-fledged candidates for governor before the debate.

Herbst said he thinks it would actually improve their ability to fundraise.

“A donor would be less hesitant if they don’t know what they’re running for—male or female,” Herbst said.

He said when he declared he saw an improvement in his fundraising abilities.

Former Comptroller General of the United States Dave Walker said the rules were clearly defined before the debate and they were made to be gender neutral. He pointed out there are a number of male candidates who are not on the debate stage because they haven’t met the financial threshold, but are declared candidates.

The eight candidates participating in Wednesday’s debate include Lauretti, Walker, Boughton, Herbst, Srinivasan, Steve Obsitnik, Mike Handler, and Peter Lumaj.

There are also two candidates who were invited, but won’t be participating.

Bob Stefanowski’s campaign did not respond to requests for comment about his decision to sit out a third debate, but his campaign has hinted that they have no desire to attend.

Patrick Sweeney, the campaign manager for David Stemerman, said his candidate won’t be participating in the debate.

“He just closed his business down six weeks ago and is looking to scale up his campaign staff,” Sweeney said.

Stefanowski and Stemerman have been widely criticized for their decision to sit out the debates.

However, both seem to be gearing up to petition their way onto the Republican primary ballot.

Both candidates have raised enough money to collect the necessary 9,600 signatures of registered Republicans to get on the August primary ballot. Between May 1 and June candidates can collect the signatures of two percent of party members and still make the ballot without getting the 15 percent of delegates to the Republican convention the second week of May.