Yeah, sure, you’ve got your boring candidates for governor, such as the gang of old rich men and the felon. But the really interesting stuff, the contests that will do more to shape the future of the state and the major parties than any others, are happening just down the ballot.
The primary for lieutenant governor, which in our state happens separately from the primary for governor, is probably the clearest case of this, as well as the most high-profile.
For Democrats, endorsed candidate Susan Bysiewicz, a former secretary of the state and state representative, is facing newcomer Eva Bermudez Zimmerman. A few election cycles ago this would have been an easy win for an experienced political hand like Bysiewicz, who has been searching for an office to fill since 2010.
But there’s been a growing clamor in the Democratic Party for a more diverse ticket, and having the usual up-model white woman in the number two spot and a single member of a racial minority somewhere even farther down the ballot doesn’t cut it anymore. That’s why Eva Bermudez Zimmerman, a woman of color, is suddenly very popular. She scored a shocking 40 percent of the vote at the convention, and came into the primary season with all the momentum.
It helps that Bermudez Zimmerman is young — she’s only 31. There’s a hunger for generational change among Democrats, as well, and millennial voters are paying attention. Bermudez Zimmerman is well aware of this, going so far to tell Bysiewicz, 56, that she’s “had her time” in Thursday’s debate. Yikes.
On the Republican side a different dynamic is playing out — one that may be among the last of its kind. The party endorsed the very conservative state Sen. Joe Markley, but he’ll be faced by New Britain Mayor Erin Stewart and Darien First Selectwoman Jayme Stevenson. Stewart has struggled to get any kind of traction, despite being touted as a potential future star of the party. Her major trouble is that Republican primary voters don’t want to elect a young, fairly moderate woman to anything. Ever. Stevenson, who called out Sen. Markley as being too conservative for the general election at a recent debate, may run into the exact same issue.
So much for the old-school New England Republican like Lowell Weicker, Andrew Roraback, and Stewart McKinney. Does a party that can elect Donald Trump have any room at all for them anymore?
Speaking of Trump, he’s very much at the heart of the race for the attorney general’s office. Democrats Rep. William Tong, Sen. Paul Doyle, and Chris Mattei are all directing attacks against Trump in one form or another. Tong, the endorsed candidate, recently released a television ad about himself taking on Democratic boogeymen like the big banks and the NRA, then accused Trump of “attacking families like ours” before declaring that he’d beat the president, too. Mattei, too, promised to protect Connecticut families from “the most powerful man in the world.”
Doyle’s been a little more circumspect, very reasonably pointing out that there’s more to being attorney general than fighting Trump. True! There’s also all the legal issues around legalizing pot, which Mattei supports but the others don’t.
So the future for Democrats is filled with resisting Trump and dealing with legalization. Mattei may have a slight edge thanks to his popularity among progressives — who seem to be ascendant.
What about for Republicans?
The Republican race for attorney general actually features a Trump delegate in Sue Hatfield, but interestingly both she and her opponent John Shaban seem willing to distance themselves from him, saying that they’d be willing to buck the president when needed.
There’s a surprising hint of moderation here; I look forward to seeing it snuffed out. There’s not much future for Republicans who disagree with Trump. Even if either Shaban or Hatfield manage to get elected in November, the first time they take a stand against Trump they’ll be disowned.
No, the future for Republicans is to wade deep into the culture wars, waving the flag and shouting as loudly as possible. That’s where GOP candidate for treasurer Sen. Art Linares comes in.
When Selectwoman Melissa Schlag of Haddam took a symbolic knee in protest of Trump during the Pledge of Allegiance, Linares was ready to go. Here’s a guy who already knows where his base is at — he’s already airing his commercial about “draining the Hartford swamp” on Fox News — and Schlag was a perfect foil. Linares was the first candidate to denounce Schlag, calling for her resignation in a video posted to Twitter.
The future for both parties, then, seems to be in doubling down on the culture wars, with Democrats embracing youth, diversity, and resistance to Trump, and Republicans leaning in to Trump’s politics of white grievance.
Only one of those has an actual future, though. Republicans who are loudly embracing Trump now may live to regret it.
Susan Bigelow is an award-winning columnist and the founder of CTLocalPolitics. She lives in Enfield with her wife and their cats.
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