The conditions should be perfect for Republicans. The state’s economy is a mess, voter discontent is high, Democrats are taking the blame for government dysfunction, and Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy is less popular than pineapple on pizza.
Republicans should be cruising to victory, but they’re not. They have only themselves to blame.
Quinnipiac University released a poll this week showing Republican Bob Stefanowski trailing Democrat Ned Lamont 47 percent to 39 percent, with independent Oz Griebel picking up 11 percent. This poll is awful news for the plodding Stefanowski campaign in several ways.
First, Lamont’s strong showing is powered by women, who favor him by a whopping 22 points, 53 percent to 31 percent. Stefanowski didn’t help himself among women by giving admitted sexual abuser Donald Trump an “A” grade, and for punting on the question of Brett Kavanaugh. He also seems to have no opinions on issues women care about, or on any issues at all that aren’t taxes and spending.
Lamont, on the other hand, was quick to denounce Kavanaugh and has, of all things, a female running mate! You think the “Ned and Susan” signs are by accident? They’re a reminder that yes, one ticket does in fact have a lady on it (not at the top, though, we don’t want to go too far).
Lamont has also made it clear that he would protect “Connecticut values” from Trump and has brought up Stefanowski’s sorta-embrace of Trump whenever he has air in his lungs to spare. Praising Trump plays well with a part of his base that was going to vote for him anyway, and it turns everyone else off.
Lamont understands that culture and politics are deeply enmeshed. Stefanowski doesn’t.
Second, Stefanowski is losing independent voters 42 percent to 36 percent. This is a huge red flag. Independents need to swing to Stefanowski in a big way in order for him to have a chance. This is even more remarkable because independents don’t really like Lamont all that much! Only 34 percent have a favorable opinion of him, while 50 percent have an unfavorable opinion. Stefanowski is also viewed unfavorably, but the numbers (36 percent favorable, 44 percent unfavorable) are much closer.
So how is he losing them? Economic issues tend to motivate independents, and voters trust Lamont more than Stefanowski on the economy. They trust Stefanowski more on taxes and spending, but not the economy. It’s almost as if those are two separate things!
Bob’s monotonous “cut taxes” refrain has backfired. It may have convinced 30 percent of GOP primary voters, but it’s not playing well now.
Lastly, when voters were asked if a candidate’s opinion on Trump or Malloy mattered to them in the election, more voters picked Trump.
Ned Lamont has successfully nationalized this race, which turns out to have been a good strategy. Dan Malloy is leaving soon, Connecticut’s economy isn’t too terrible right now, and Donald Trump is still constantly in the news being, well, Donald Trump.
Stefanowski is looking more and more like a regrettable choice, yet another tone-deaf rich guy with no real understanding of politics or government. Republican primary voters seem to like millionaires, outsiders, overly simplistic and impossible solutions to problems, and Trump guys. That gives women and moderate-to-liberal independents no reason to support him.
Imagine if Mark Boughton or Erin Stewart were running against Ned Lamont. They’d probably be up by 10 points right now. Stewart is the mayor of a largely Democratic city, understands compromise, is a moderate, and is also a young woman who represents change. She would have been perfect. But she’s not a knuckle-dragging right-wing nationalist, so she got no traction before the convention, dropped down to the lieutenant governor’s race, and lost in the primary.
In short, Republicans screwed this one up pretty badly. Again.
Stefanowski still has time to turn this around. To do so, he needs to look north to Massachusetts.
Republican Gov. Charlie Baker ran on a platform of fiscal conservatism and social liberalism in 2014, which is like catnip to an awful lot of moderate white New Englanders. He is personable, knowledgeable, and served in the governor’s cabinet during the Weld and Cellucci administrations. His experience as a leader in the private sector was with a large health insurance nonprofit with a reputation for quality plans in the Bay State.
Baker has proven to be pretty good at his job, which is why he’s headed for a Jodi Rell-like landslide win. He has been clear in his dislike for Trump, and didn’t vote for him in 2016. Stefanowski didn’t vote for Trump, either, but that was only because he didn’t bother to vote at all.
If Stefanowski has a more human side or an opinion about anything not related to taxes, he needs to roll that out pronto. Otherwise he’ll just be the latest in a long line of Republican failures.
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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