ROCKY HILL, CT — In their last televised debate before Tuesday, the five Republican candidates for governor stuck firmly to their talking points and wasted little time attacking each other.
Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton, former Trumbull First Selectman Tim Herbst, Westport businessman Steve Obsitnik, former hedge fund founder David Stemerman, and former GE executive and investment banker Bob Stefanowski met at WFSB’s studios Wednesday and all said they would support the winner of the Republican primary.
However, Herbst felt there should have been a second part to the question.
He said the other question that needs to be asked is if the candidates will stay with the Republican Party or switch parties once they are elected.
It was a veiled reference to Stefanowski’s decision to become a Democrat three months before the 2016 election, in which he failed to vote. Stefanowski didn’t vote for 16 years before casting a ballot in a 2017 municipal election shortly after switching his party affiliation back to Republican.
“That troubles me,” Herbst said. “Because I did not find my value system in a poll or a focus group.”
Stefanowski has largely avoided the media, bypassed the convention, and opted for paid television commercials and robocalls to get his message out to what might be less than 100,000 Republican voters.
Stefanowski ignored Herbst’s comments.
“You can tell by some of the responses that people really don’t want another politician to run this state,” Stefanowski said. “Ninety percent of the people out there want somebody from the business world.”
After the debate Stefanowski declined to answer questions about who he consulted when he was considering a run for governor. Was it Democratic or Republican campaign consultants?
“I had a bunch of meetings with people when I got back from London about doing a lot of different things,” Stefanowski said. “But I decided the best place for me is Republican candidate for governor.”
He said people are tired of career politicians trying to sling mud rather than talk about how they will move the state forward.
During the debate, Boughton also said he would support the Republican nominee.
“I’ve been a proud Republican my entire life, as was my father before me,” Boughton said.
Obsitnik said he’s the only “real Republican business outsider” of the five candidates.
Stemerman was a registered Democratic voter when he lived in New York from 1996 to 2003.
Stemerman and Stefanowski, the two self-funded candidates, have traded ads back and forth over the issue.
Stemerman also said he would support the Republican nominee. He added that he’s the only one of the five with a detailed plan for how to get Connecticut out of its current fiscal mess, which is tied largely to its unfunded pension liability.
Truth be told, all five Republicans would rather talk about the economy and Connecticut’s fiscal problems — the state is facing a $2 billion deficit next year — than any social issues.
The Republican candidates felt it was unnecessary to ask about what they would do as governor if Roe v. Wade was overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court.
“This was in many ways something the Democrats will try to play up in the general election,” Boughton said.
After a brief protest of the question, Boughton said he’s pro-life, but he doesn’t believe the government should get between a woman and her doctor.
“So the status quo for me is just fine,” Boughton said.
Obsitnik said he would not stand between a woman her care provider.
“This is a topic Ned Lamont is going to want to talk about because the facts are not on the side of Dan Malloy and Ned Lamont,” he continued. “They’re going to obfuscate” the real issue, which is the economy.
Obsitnik said voters want to talk about the cost of living and why their kids can’t move back to the state.
“This is not an issue at the top of the mind of people I’m talking to,” Obsitnik said.
Stemerman said he has five kids so “on this issue the numbers speak for themselves.”
“This is not an area where the government should be interfering,” Stemerman said.
Herbst said Connecticut is a pro-choice state because abortion is codified in state law.
“That being said, if I’m elected governor I will support efforts to put laws on the books to allow for parental consent,” he said.
He said if a minor has to contact their parent to take an aspirin at school or get a body piercing, they should have to get consent for an abortion.
Stefanowski agreed with Herbst regarding parental notification.
But he said “this election needs to be laser-focused on the economy. We cannot get distracted by something that’s already codified by Connecticut law.”
In the rapid fire segment of the debate where candidates are asked to give one-word answers to question,s the candidates were asked to describe their cannabis use.
Herbst: “Tried it.”
Stefanowksi: “Tried it in college.”
Boughton: “Tried it.”
And who was the best Connecticut governor in the past 50 years?
Boughton: Ella Grasso
Obsitnik: Ella Grasso
Herbst: Tom Meskill
Stefanowski: Jodi Rell
Should Connecticut ban 3D printable guns?
Boughton: “That’s really a First Amendment issue so we need to study the issue a little further. We need to wait for the federal government to act.”
Obsitnik: “Federal law requires every gun to have a serial number if it complies with that I have no problem.”
Stemerman: “Federal law has dealt with this.”
Herbst: “Federal law dealt with this in 1988.”
Stefanowski: “Federal law should apply.”
Would they welcome Trump on the campaign trail? They all said they would.