The two major parties held their state conventions this weekend, endorsing candidates, setting up a few primaries for August, and establishing their themes for the fall, and one party looks a lot more united and fired up than the other.
Believe it or not, it’s the Democrats.
In 2018 Democrats were desperately trying to paper over internal divisions and saddled with a gubernatorial candidate a lot of them weren’t all that thrilled about. A sizeable faction of Democrats at the convention supported the candidacy of Eva Bermudez Zimmerman, who represented youth and diversity, for lieutenant governor, bucking the choice of Ned Lamont of Susan Bysiewicz as his running mate. Zimmerman eventually went on to lose, though she garnered impressive support for an unknown candidate running against a heavyweight like Bysiewicz.
Democrats in 2018 also had to reckon with the legacy of outgoing governor Dannel P. Malloy, who was about as popular as a slice of deep-dish pizza in New Haven by this point in his administration. The past eight years had been a miserable slog of deficits, hard choices, and bad economic news, and the future wasn’t looking all that bright either.
What a difference four years makes. Ned Lamont enters his re-election race a heavy favorite, thanks in part to his calm, steady leadership during the worst of the pandemic. Connecticut’s economy is on the mend, the days of yearly billion-dollar deficits are seemingly behind us (for now), and progressives can feel good about at least a few legislative wins, such as cannabis legalization.
The grumbling about gender and racial balance at the top of the ticket is muted, this time, because the governor and lieutenant governor are both incumbents. There’s plenty of diversity downticket, too. And while the Secretary of the State race was something of a fracas, and there may yet be a primary for that office and for Treasurer, the level of animosity doesn’t seem nearly as high as it was four years ago.
It helps that Democrats have something concrete to rally around; in this case, the leaked draft of a bombshell Supreme Court opinion overturning Roe v. Wade.
Reproductive rights were a major theme that Democratic candidates returned to again and again at the convention. Lt. Gov. Susan Bysiewicz laid down the gauntlet for Republicans: “When the court overturns Roe v. Wade,” she said, “we need a governor who makes sure that Connecticut remains a state where women’s reproductive rights are sacred.”
Or in other words: can you really count on Bob Stefanowski to be that governor?
Stefanowski, in trademark fashion, hasn’t made a clear statement on abortion. The closest he’s come has been to say that abortion is settled law in Connecticut: “The leaked Supreme Court opinion doesn’t change anything here in Connecticut,” he said in an email. “In Connecticut, a woman’s right to choose is fully protected under state law.”
That’s not exactly confidence inspiring, especially because the justices now voting to trash Roe used similar kinds of weasel words in their confirmation hearings. What Stefanowski isn’t saying is how he feels on the subject, and whether he’d act to protect abortion rights here if and when challenges come.
His running mate, Rep. Laura Devlin, R-Fairfield, recently voted in favor of an abortion rights bill. In fact, she has clearer stands on a lot of issues than Stefanowski does. Why isn’t she at the top of the ticket, instead? Just think about that race for a minute. What a missed opportunity.
Another pro-choice Republican who would have been a lot better in the governor’s race, former House minority leader Themis Klarides, will get to test out just how many Republican voters are willing to give her a pass on abortion. She’ll face a primary from two pro-life challengers for the U.S. Senate nomination in August. A whisper campaign of anonymous texts about her voting record and lack of support for Donald Trump may already have cost her votes at the convention.
In short, Republicans’ heads and their hearts are in two different places. They want electable candidates, but those candidates don’t necessarily share their most passionately-held beliefs.
Democrats, on the other hand, get to campaign with their heads and their hearts this year. Abortion rights are popular in Connecticut. No wonder Democrats are going all in.