Hey, wasn’t this supposed to be a Republican year in Connecticut? Conventional wisdom said that this would be the election when anger at Democrats and Dan Malloy finally put a Republican in the governorship and flipped at least one chamber of the legislature. But if that’s true, then why is Bob Stefanowski losing to Ned Lamont so badly?
The Quinnipiac Poll, like so many other Connecticut-based establishments, has been spending a lot of time in other places. They’ve done polling for much more exciting states like Ohio, Texas, and I guess Florida. But now they’re back — and we finally have our first real look at where the governor’s race stands.
The news is not great for Republican nominee Bob Stefanowski.
Ned Lamont is leading Stefanowski 46 percent to 33 percent with the two other candidates, independent Oz Griebel and Libertarian Rod Hanscomb, thrown into the mix. In a direct head-to-head matchup, Lamont wins 53 percent to 37 percent.
Lamont is winning across all age groups, even the old and cranky. Women, whites, and nonwhites favor Lamont — only white men as a group break for Stefanowski, and then only by 5 percentage points.
So what gives?
There are a couple of reasons. First, there’s a Trump effect at work here, and it slightly favors Lamont. Respondents were actually asked if their opinion of Trump or Malloy made them more of less likely to vote for a certain candidate. According to the poll, 24 percent said their opinion of Malloy made it more likely that they’d vote for Stefanowski, while 31 percent said their opinion of Trump made it more likely they’d vote for Lamont.
That explains why Lamont has been doing his level best to make the race at least in part about national politics, because there’s a sizable portion of his base that is absolutely consumed by the eldritch horror unfolding in Washington. In his acceptance speech on primary night, Lamont spoke about “Connecticut values” and being a “firewall” against the overreach of the Trump administration. Trump’s overbearing endorsement of Stefanowski didn’t help, either.
It also explains why Stefanowski has been trying hard to tie Lamont to the deeply unpopular Malloy. So far, Trump is a more potent force than Malloy in this election. So far.
The second reason is the sheer number of Democrats in the state. Democrats outnumber Republicans 2-1, meaning that even though both parties are firmly behind their candidate and Stefanowski is winning independents by 7 percentage points, Lamont can still be out in front by a wide margin. This effect may become more pronounced later in the campaign as polls start to measure likely voters instead of just those who are registered.
Stefanowski also has a problem of name recognition — most people who didn’t follow the Republican primary have no clue who he is. He’s basically a generic Republican, and in this state the generic Republican always loses to the generic Democrat.
Lastly, the economy is actually starting to get a little better, and people are noticing. Respondents said they felt the economy was doing just that much better than in 2014. There’s even a very tiny budget surplus! The better the economy does, the better the party in power will do.
But Ned Lamont shouldn’t take too much solace in this poll for one simple reason: it’s August.
In mid-September 2010, Quinnipiac polled the governor’s race and found Malloy beating Tom Foley by a comfortable 9 percentage points: 50 percent to 41 percent. That race ended in a virtual tie, with Malloy only pulling out a win by a few thousand votes.
People don’t really pay attention to state races until around October, and that’s when the candidates become more than just that generic Democrat or generic Republican. For Malloy, that was the point in the 2010 race when a lot of people decided they just didn’t like him all that much, especially when he wouldn’t rule out raising taxes.
That makes the next month critical. Lamont and Stefanowski are rushing to define their opponent: Lamont is going to try to paint Stefanowski as a Trump clone who ran a nasty payday loan company, while Stefanowski is going to try to case Lamont as Malloy Part II. A lot is going to depend on whether Connecticut voters feel more disgusted with Trump or Malloy, and whether they’re willing to split their tickets because of it.
But this is also a time for both candidates to introduce themselves to the general electorate, and to try and get their positive messages out there. One way or another, Stefanowski and Lamont will be well-known by the time voting starts.
My guess? It looks good for Lamont now, but by Halloween it’ll be another nail-biter.
Susan Bigelow is an award-winning columnist and the founder of CTLocalPolitics. She lives in Enfield with her wife and their cats.
DISCLAIMER: The views, opinions, positions, or strategies expressed by the author are theirs alone, and do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions, or positions of CTNewsJunkie.com.