Paul Bass/ New Haven Independent
Democratic gubernatorial candidates: Guy Smith, Ned Lamont, Jonathan Harris, Susan Bysiewicz, Sean Connolly, Joe Ganim (Paul Bass/ New Haven Independent)

Susan Bysiewicz could have worded the pivotal question of a gubernatorial debate in New Haven Sunday this way: “What makes you think you should be the hero of progressive Democrats when you’re pouring your own millions into the race instead of running clean?”

That was in fact the point of the question Bysiewicz posed to Ned Lamont at Sunday’s debate, which brought together the six leading Democratic candidates for governor to the stage of New Haven’s Career High School before an audience of some 70 local politicos. It was a can’t-miss event for the candidates: New Haven turns out the most Democratic voters on election day. Its 100 delegates (including three “super-delegates”) will comprise the largest municipal contingent at next month’s party nominating convention. (“A victory,” noted Democratic Town Chair Vincent Mauro Jr., “runs through New Haven.”)

Bysiewicz worded her question differently, of course. She pointed that unlike her and several other candidates, Lamont is not participating in the state’s public financing system, aka the Citizens’ Election Program (CEP).

“Ned,” she asked, “will you agree to spend $1.2 million, which is what all of us will qualify for, from the convention through the primary?”

The ensuing exchange raised and addressed some of the central questions the Democratic Party faces in trying to decide who can break out from the pack of the six leading gubernatorial hopefuls.

Those questions include:

• Who can both fire up the base and beat a Republican in a year when anti-Trump grassroots Democrats seek to steer the campaign left, but when the legislature has turned from blue to purple and a significant majority of the state is livid at retiring Gov. Dannel P. Malloy to Connecticut’s continued fiscal woes?

• What exactly does it mean to be a “progressive”? Lamont, a 64-year-old Greenwich millionaire who started and sold a company that built telecommunications and video systems for universities; his highest elected office has been as a Greenwich selectman. Can a wealthy businessman who finances his own campaign meet the progressive test?

Read more from Paul Bass of the New Haven Independent.