Connecticut election concept
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Susan Bigelow

Next week Republican voters go to the polls to choose their candidate to run against US Sen. Richard Blumenthal in the fall election. They are choosing between a good but probably doomed candidate, a consistent but absolutely doomed candidate, and total disaster. What they choose in the primary next week will tell us a lot about whether that very endangered species, the moderate Connecticut Republican, can survive.

On paper it’s such an easy decision. A moderate, well-liked, reasonable candidate with a fantastic resume, former House Minority Leader Themis Klarides, is running against Peter Lumaj, a hard-right conservative, and Leora Levy, who is … a lot.

Lumaj has always been far to the right of most Connecticut voters, and has gone as far to say that the January 6th hearings are a “witch hunt” to prevent Trump from running again in 2024. He’s also a perennial candidate who has a small but devoted core of supporters. To date, he has never won anything.

Levy is running as a pro-gun, anti-abortion, thoroughly Trumpist Republican. She expertly wields Trumpian rhetoric, calling Klarides a creature of the Hartford “swamp,” and was actually nominated by the former president to serve as ambassador to Chile (though her nomination never came up for a vote in the Senate).

But in the past she’s been a pro-choice moderate Romney supporter who bashed Trump and, with her husband, donated money to Richard Blumenthal at one point. If you want to trace her twists and turns, Dan Haar at Hearst has done so very well.

The upshot is that she’s a cynical opportunist who will say and do anything to get into office, including cheerfully abandoning positions and principles she may once have held to embrace frothing-at-the-mouth populist extremism. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? In short, Peter Lumaj may be a Trump supporter, but Leora Levy is channeling the noxious, decrepit spirit of the man himself.

If you’re an OANN-watching, election-denying, gun-toting, QAnon-believing, gay-hating, right-wing nationalist, you’re absolutely going to love her. Are there enough of this kind of Republican in Connecticut to swing a low-turnout summer primary to Levy?

Oh man. I have no idea. And I’m not looking forward to finding out.

The truth is that nobody knows who is going to show up next Tuesday to vote. Will it be button-down Fairfield County businessmen, religious pro-lifers, or the guys who open carry at the American Steakhouse “just in case”?

If this primary were happening 10 years ago I’d be pretty confident Klarides would win. I still think that’s the most likely outcome. There are enough Republicans left in Connecticut who would rather win an election than be ideologically pure … at least, I think there are. But gross, loud, gleefully bigoted, Trumpian nationalism has warped so many minds on the right that it’s hard to know anymore.

The best reason to vote for Levy is to stick up a big middle finger at everyone and everything right-wing extremists hate, including and especially other conservatives who don’t follow their views. It’s not hard to see that motivating the sort of people who have a collection of “Let’s Go Brandon” bumper stickers to turn out. After all, why have a consistent conservative like Lumaj or an electable moderate like Klarides when you could basically troll the whole state?

After 2016 I remember someone online somewhere saying that Trump voters put him in the White House because they thought it was funny. That’s stuck with me. Nominating Levy would be hilarious, if you think throwing a grenade into a garden party is a laugh riot. So many liberal and RINO tears! Think of the memes!

Oh, sure, they’d lose, but they were going to lose anyway. 

What I don’t get is why Klarides is in this race at all. She originally was running for governor, until a deal of some kind was struck to switch her to the senate race, clearing the field for Bob Stefanowski and throwing her into the wood chipper of national politics. How did the brain trust at Connecticut GOP headquarters look at Stefanowski’s disaster of a 2018 campaign, plus his four subsequent years of developing exactly zero policies, and think, ah, here’s our guy? 

If I thought them capable of playing chess, I’d say this was a way to keep Klarides in the public eye while Stefanowski lumbers toward getting crushed by Lamont, making it that much easier for her to run for a presumably open seat in 2026. But it’s equally possible that they’re just bad at running a political party.

So which way will Connecticut Republicans go? Will they vote for an admittedly small fighting chance against Blumenthal, or tie a rock to their legs and careen headfirst into Long Island Sound? Your guess is as good as mine.

EDITOR’S NOTE: The original version of this op-ed erroneously stated the timeline for Themis Klarides’ switch from the governor’s race to US Senate. The decision was made in January rather than shortly before the Republican Party Convention.

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.