HARTFORD, CT — Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ned Lamont didn’t waste any time diving into the general election after the Aug. 14 primary, holding press conferences on a variety of public policy issues on a near daily basis.
But for the most part thus far he’s been unable to engage his Republican opponent, Bob Stefanowski.
Stefanowski, who skipped his own party’s convention and petitioned his way onto the Republican primary ballot, has not made any public appearances since his acceptance speech at the Madison Beach Hotel. He also declined to participate in a Sept. 5 debate, but accepted invitations to five others.
“Where’s Waldo?” Lamont said Wednesday. “No, I’m not frustrated. He skipped most of the debates and forums during primary season as well. If he needs more time to get his tax plan together, give him more time. I’m ready to debate when he is.”
Lamont said Stefanowski will “reappear when he wants to reappear.”
“I think my job as a candidate for governor is to be out there every day, taking questions, looking people in the eye, saying where I want to take this state,” Lamont said. “Going to forums, doing debates, I think that’s what people expect of a candidate and that’s what they’ll expect of a governor.”
Stefanowski, who was the first Republican candidate to get his advertising up on television, relied for the primary largely on those paid media messages to reach voters. He held only two press conferences and didn’t take any questions at one of them.
Kendall Marr, Stefanowski’s communications director, started working with the campaign on Aug. 27. He said Stefanowski plans to make more public appearances in the coming days and weeks.
Over the Labor Day weekend, Stefanowski is scheduled to attend several gatherings, fairs, and a parade. His first event will be the annual Crocodile Club gathering at Lake Compounce on Friday.
It’s too early to say if this is a campaign “style,” or just a transition period for Stefanowski.
Republican sources say he’s been busy fundraising, which means lots of phone calls to donors and potential donors. The maximum amount an individual can give to his campaign is $3,500.
Stefanowski spent about $2.3 million of his own money on the primary and raised about $600,000 from individuals. Lamont spent about $2.6 million on the primary and raised about $265,000 from individuals.
The general election is expected to be much more expensive.
Meanwhile, Stefanowski’s campaign has also been silent when it comes to paid media.
In the race for governor, Facebook advertising has been a crucial way of reaching voters, but aside from a small ad buy asking for donations, Stefanowski’s campaign has been largely absent from the platform since the primary.
Starting on Aug. 21, the Republican Governors Association purchased about $132,800 in mostly negative advertising on Facebook, television, and other web-based platforms like Hulu, targeting Lamont following the primary.
The last Facebook ad purchase Stefanowski’s campaign made expired on Aug. 20. He did make it to the Independent Party’s convention Sunday to snag the coveted cross-endorsement. That same day he called in to a radio show that is broadcast in New York and Washington.
In the radio interview with John Catsimatidis, the Greek-American billionaire who owns the largest grocery store chain in Manhattan, Stefanowski said his own pollster, John McLaughlin, shows he’s “down three points,” which is within the margin of error.
“The Republican Governors Association — this is their No. 1 target state on the governor level for the fall,” Stefanowski told Catsimatidis.
Jon Thompson, a spokesman for the Republican Governors Association, said Thursday that Stefanowski “is a terrific candidate, and he’s the only person in the race running on a platform of reform.”
He said Connecticut voters are “craving change,” and Stefanowski will deliver. He said Lamont would just continue “Dan Malloy’s failed high-tax, anti-jobs policies and continue Connecticut’s economic decline.”
In April, the Republican Governors Association also pre-purchased $1.7 million in television advertising.
Thompson said the “RGA will likely spend even more as we see the Connecticut governor’s race as a top pick-up opportunity for Republicans.”
There are 36 gubernatorial races this year. Of those, 26 are in states where the office is currently held by a Republican, and nine are in states where the office is currently held by a Democrat.
The Democratic Governors Association has about $125,000 in the bank ready to spend on the race. It’s already spent about $10,000 on consultants and opposition research, but hasn’t made any large ad buys.
The DGA did not respond to requests for comment.
Lamont ran for U.S. Senate in 2006 and governor in 2010, so his name recognition is much higher than Stefanowski’s in Connecticut. However, that hasn’t stopped his own campaign from spending money on both positive and negative ads on Facebook and television.
Lamont, whose campaign didn’t get its paid media messages up on television until July, has been on television continuously since the primary.