Susan Bigelow

Sen. Richard Blumenthal winning elections is as much a constant in Connecticut life as complaining about taxes, sitting in traffic, and arguing over pizza joints. He’s been around forever, and he’s always been popular.

So what happens if that seemingly ironclad popularity erodes, as a recent Quinnipiac Poll suggests it has? Does that mean, as Chris Powell of the Journal Inquirer said, that he could actually lose to a strong Republican candidate who has something to say?

Well, I guess anything’s possible. I could wake up tomorrow aboard the U.S.S. Enterprise on a quick jaunt to Klingon space, for instance (fingers crossed). But the conditions for any Republican to defeat a sitting Democrat in a U.S. Senate race in Connecticut are so difficult, and the challenges to overcome so immense, that it would almost take a miracle for it to happen in our current climate.

Let’s start with the facts. Richard Blumenthal is absolutely less popular than he was, say, five years ago. One of the reasons his popularity has ebbed is that he’s been in politics forever. He was first elected to the state House of Representatives in 1984, when I was seven years old, was elected attorney general when I was 14, and finally got that senate seat he always wanted when I was 33 (I’ll let you do the math on my age now). He has been a fixed point in Connecticut’s political constellation for basically my whole life.

It’s galling that he’s running again, because his generation of now-septuagenarians like President Biden, and octogenarians like Nancy Pelosi and Mitch McConnell, continue to grimly hold on to power in a time when people are desperate for change. And unlike his much younger fellow senator Chris Murphy, who has made a name for himself on gun control and foreign policy, Blumenthal hasn’t stood out from the crowd.

So the question is, why run at all? Why not step aside in favor of the next generation? As Powell said, why not yield to someone who has something more to say? 

Blumenthal could have passed the baton to someone who can really energize the party’s core constituencies of women, young people, and minority voters. There are dozens of Democrats in the state who would make incredible candidates. How about Eva Bermúdez-Zimmerman, who made a splash running for lieutenant governor in 2018 and is running for state senate this year? Or Sen. Gary Winfield, D-New Haven, who has long been an outspoken voice for police reform and racial justice?

But no, here we are. Ho hum, another Blumenthal race. Change the channel.

So why isn’t he in real danger? Why isn’t Themis Klarides, a well-known, likable moderate Republican who is polling only 10 points behind Blumenthal, in a position to take him out?

Here’s the reason.

Klarides was reported saying she would continue to "re-evaluate" Trump on a daily basis in 2016.
This Hearst image of then-House Minority Leader Themis Klarides, R-Derby, speaking at a rally for presidential candidate Donald Trump in Bridgeport in April 2016 was included with a story published on Oct. 10, 2016, with the headline “State Republicans mum on Trump.” Klarides was reported saying she would continue to “re-evaluate” Trump on a daily basis but declined to endorse him on Oct. 10, 2016. Credit: Screengrab of an image by Christian Abraham / Hearst Connecticut Media file photo

A picture of Klarides speaking at a Trump rally in 2016. That’s it.

Oh, she’s walked back her support for him since. But it doesn’t matter. The picture is damning, and it is perfectly illustrative of the impossible position she, and any other GOP candidate, is in.

For Klarides to win a U.S. Senate race in today’s Connecticut, she would have to win all Republicans, a sizeable majority of independents, and a small but crucial sliver of moderate to conservative Democrats.

Independents in Connecticut do not like Trump, and obviously Democrats loathe him with a passion. But most importantly, those two groups are horrified at what the national Republican Party under Trump has become: a white nationalist, authoritarian, anti-democracy hatefest.

So, who will Klarides vote for when it comes time to choose a majority leader? Mitch McConnell? The guy who voted against impeaching Trump in the aftermath of Jan. 6? The guy who put the conservative majority who just gutted Roe v. Wade on the Supreme Court?

Dealbreaker. Independents won’t break for her. Almost no Democrats will vote for her. She won’t get within 5 points of Blumenthal; and she’s probably the most electable Republican (with the possible exception of Erin Stewart) in the whole state. Every other GOP candidate is worse.

No Connecticut Republican seeking national office has a good answer to the question of what to do about their own party. This has been the CTGOP’s biggest impediment to being competitive in this state for 20 years, and if their relationship with the increasingly conservative rest of their party was awkward during the George W. Bush years, it’s as uncomfortable as poison ivy on the inside of their eyelids now.

Nothing the national GOP is doing is popular in Connecticut. They are antithetical to Connecticut’s values of openness, religious pluralism, acceptance, and deep-seated democracy.

That’s why an aging senator who seems like he may finally have worn out his welcome is still a lock for a third term. It’s the same reason why Democrats supported Joe Biden in 2020. He may not be great, but the alternative is so, so much worse.

Susan Bigelow is an award-winning columnist and the founder of CTLocalPolitics. She lives in Enfield with her wife and their cats.

The views, opinions, positions, or strategies expressed by the author are theirs alone, and do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions, or positions of or any of the author's other employers.