Before the 2018 gubernatorial race in Connecticut, I wondered about the “Trump Effect” and whether the then-sitting president might influence the election here. I concluded that while Trump’s sway over Republicans could be a factor, it was minor. This quote from Mark Boughton summed it up: “At the end of the day this election is about Connecticut. It’s not about the national conversation that’s going on. It’s about what happens in our state and how do we get this state of ours back on a road that all of us remember.”
Since that time, the former Danbury mayor failed to gain the GOP gubernatorial nomination – that prize went to Bob Stefanowski – but Boughton was later tapped by Gov. Ned Lamont to become commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Revenue Services. The fact that Lamont reached across the aisle to name a candidate for this position was not exactly eye-opening, considering Connecticut’s tradition of moderate, rather than ultra-rightwing, GOP conservatism.
The political scene in Connecticut, in sum, seemed “business as usual,” even as Trump’s impact on the Republican Party proved to be considerable in other areas of the country. This election year is noticeably different from 2018, however.
The most glaring example of this transformation was the appearance last week of a mailer sent to voters in three Connecticut congressional districts that claimed, “Joe Biden and Left-Wing officials are engaged in widespread racial discrimination against white and Asian Americans.” The back of the mailer added, “Biden and the left want to decide who gets hired – and who gets fired according to their skin color.”
“The mailer is paid for by the American First Legal Foundation, but because it’s a not-for-profit, it’s unclear who exactly contributed to sending the mailer,” explained CTNJ’s Christine Stuart. America First Legal Foundation is a group founded and led by former Trump senior adviser Stephen Miller.
In addition to the mailer, several Republican candidates in Connecticut running for national office have seemingly aligned themselves with the cynical strategies typically associated with Trump. George Logan, challenger to incumbent Jahana Hayes in the 5th congressional district, featured Rep. Elise Stefanik of New York at a $1,000-per-person fundraiser in Greenwich last month. Stefanik is a vocal Trump supporter and election denier.
Even as Logan presents himself as a relatively moderate Republican, particularly when it comes to abortion rights – he says he opposes Sen. Lindsey Graham’s proposal for a federal ban on abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy – he can sound like a typical Trump devotee: “I believe that because of one-party rule, the Biden-Harris administration – already left of center to begin with – is being pulled even further to the left because of the ultra-liberal progressives, like [Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez] and Rep. Ilhan Omar.”
Leora Levy, who is challenging incumbent Sen. Richard Blumenthal’s U.S. Senate seat, is attempting a similar balancing act between going “full-on MAGA” and appeasing Connecticut’s traditionally moderate Republicans. Like Logan, Levy received monetary support from the Trump camp, but this time it came by way of a fundraiser last month at Mar-a-Lago hosted by Trump himself. Still, Levy is attempting to keep her distance.
“Trump is not on the ballot,” she told one reporter. “And if there’s any president’s name on the ballot, it’s Joe Biden, because of his failed policies.”
That same talking point is expressed by GOP candidate Jayme Stevenson who’s facing Rep. Jim Himes in the 4th congressional district: “Trump was a big factor throughout our campaign, but Trump’s not on the ballot. Inflation, the economy, safety and security, all of the problems that we’re having with a war in Western Europe, those are the things that are top of mind for people right now.”
At first glance, it sounds a bit like Boughton’s “this election is all about Connecticut” comment from four years ago. But if you look closer, the Republican candidates here have gone beyond his “it’s not about the national conversation” sentiment; they have, in fact, embraced the caustic national conversation typical among Trump supporters. Granted, Boughton was running for governor, not a national office, but even the GOP’s Bob Stefanowski seems to be stoking up more Trump-style fear in his gubernatorial campaign this year as compared to 2018.
The bottom line is that we’ve moved beyond the general 2018 campaign style in Connecticut. And if voters buy into this style – especially the unaffiliated voters who comprise the largest block – it might move this blue state to a shade of purple.