Those of us who cover elections know they’re usually moving targets. One candidate announces while others withdraw. Still others get cold feet and never jump into the race. Polls fluctuate. Endorsements are on display.
But even by those standards, recent developments in this year’s high-profile Connecticut races for governor and Congress leave me shaking my head and girding my loins for what will surely be a lively election season.
It has long been suspected that 2018 GOP nominee Bob Stefanowski would make another run against now-Gov. Ned Lamont, and the businessman made it official, calling in earlier this month to the working-stiff Chaz & AJ show on WPLR-FM. The development was hardly a surprise, as Stefanowski had been hinting at it for months.
In his announcement, Stefanowski joins retired business executive Susan Patricelli Regan, the only other announced Republican candidate. But the real surprise in the governor’s race is who is not running. More on that in a minute.
Stefanowski has pledged $10 million toward his own campaign and has already executed a $1 million media buy. He has wisely put on the back burner the centerpiece of his 2018 campaign – his totally impractical proposal to eliminate the state income tax, replacing that plan with a more complete list of issues that can be found on his campaign website, such as transportation, public safety and “job creators and job growth.” Interestingly, the last page mentions the word “tax” or “taxes” only once.
The most interesting aspect of his campaign thus far is that the wealthy businessman is trying to position himself as an everyman. In a pair of television interviews last week that cost him nothing (or, in PR parlance, “earned media”), Stefanowski questioned Lamont’s leadership on a host of issues, but he also cast himself as a regular guy — the antidote to Lamont’s Greenwich pedigree.
“I know what it’s like to be a middle-class person in Connecticut and the reason I’m running is to give the rest of the people of Connecticut the opportunities that I had,” Stefanowski told Jodi Latina of WTNH.
Speaking last Sunday on Fox 61 with The Real Story host Jenn Bernstein, Stefanowski turned it up a notch after she asked him how he would become “relatable” to struggling blue-collar workers.
“First of all, I’ve earned it,” Stefanowski said. “I haven’t inherited it like others have. I grew up in New Haven, I am a middle-class person, I’m a relatable person, and most importantly, Jenn … I’ve had to struggle to make a rent payment.”
Then he told her he grew up sleeping in a converted closet and that he had to walk to school in the snow uphill both ways (ok, I made up that part about walking to school).
“My parents had very little … I didn’t inherit hundreds of millions of dollars,” Stefanowski continued. “My grandfather was not the person who founded J.P. Morgan like Gov. Lamont’s was.”
Ouch. Usually, class warfare is viewed as a tactic of the left, but the shoe is now on the other foot. For his part, Lamont essentially told WTNH he couldn’t be bothered to respond: “I’m trying like heck to focus on the job at hand and right now it’s getting us through what I hope is the ninth inning of this pandemic.”
In other words, “I’m doing my job for the people of Connecticut. Bob is running for office. Which is the worthier endeavor?”
Both sides are channeling the 1980 presidential election: Jimmy Carter pursued the Rose Garden strategy, while Ronald Reagan, running for the office for a second time, asked if you’re better off than you were four years ago. Stay tuned, fellow Nutmeggers, because the 2022 version should be a humdinger.
Meanwhile, in a blockbuster move first reported by blogger Kevin Rennie, Stefanowski’s presumptive rival for the GOP gubernatorial nomination, former state House Minority Leader Themis Klarides, dropped out and promptly announced she is running instead for the U.S. Senate seat held by Democrat Richard Blumenthal, who is running for a third term.
This is a smart move by Klarides on more than one level. For one thing, she probably has a better chance of beating Blumenthal than she had of taking the nomination away from Stefanowski. And at 56, she can make a veiled case for generational change against Blumenthal, who will turn 76 shortly.
Secondly — and I’ve written about this before — if she became governor, Klarides would have more than her share of conflicts of interest. Klarides’ husband, Greg Butler, is vice president and general counsel of Eversource, the much-detested electric utility that serves Connecticut and is subject to regulation by a state agency whose commissioner is appointed by the governor. As a member of the U.S. Senate, her conflicts would surely be fewer because the federal government plays a smaller role, only regulating the interstate transmission of electricity.
This race surely will attract national attention. As a Republican, Klarides will have to engage in the usual contortions other GOPers have to perform to run for federal office in Connecticut. Klarides will almost certainly be tagged by Democrats as a stooge who will do the bidding of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and, heaven forbid, Donald Trump, if he is reelected in 2024.
The other declared GOP candidates for Blumenthal’s seat are John Flynn, Robert Hyde, and Peter Lumaj, a Trump supporter who has claimed the twice-impeached president offered him an ambassadorship to his native Albania.
As she did in a recent interview with Dennis House, Klarides will have to position herself as an independent-minded candidate who will seek bipartisan support and act in the state’s best interests and no one else’s.
But she will have an uphill climb. No Republican has held a U.S. Senate seat in Connecticut since Lowell Weicker was reelected in 1982. And it would be especially tough for Klarides because her party has been radicalized on the national level.