Pat Sasser tries to talk to Mike Telesca Credit: Hugh McQuaid photo

Rather than cross-endorse a Republican, the Connecticut Independent Party gambled this year on its own candidate for governor and appeared to have fallen just shy of the necessary support in last week’s election to retain its ballot line. Still, its chairman said Monday he had no regrets. 

“If I had to do it over again, I would have done it exactly the same way in the sense that we are here for a reason and it’s not to rubber stamp anything,” Michael Telesca, the minor party’s chairman, said in a phone interview. 

Telesca’s remarks come nearly a week after incumbent Gov. Ned Lamont defeated at the polls his two-time Republican rival Bob Stefanowski by around 12 percentage points. Lamont, a Democrat, was cross-endorsed by two minor parties: the Working Families Party and the Griebel-Frank for CT party.

During their first contest, in 2018, Stefanowski appeared on two lines: the state Republican Party as well as the Independent Party, under which he received more than 25,000 votes. At 1.8% of the total vote, that showing was enough to clear a 1% threshold necessary for a political party to retain its spot on the ballot in Connecticut without needing to gather petition signatures.

This year the Independent Party took a different tack. 

Telesca, who in 2019 emerged victorious from a prolonged court battle over control of the party, lobbied against its longtime strategy of cross-endorsing Republicans and threw his weight behind Rob Hotaling, a bank executive from Cheshire. 

When the minor party’s members were divided between Hotaling and Stefanowski during a nominating caucus in August, Telesca cast a tie-breaking vote for Hotaling, which prompted a lawsuit from Stefanowski to remove the Independent Party candidate from the November ballot. 

Mike Telesca
Mike Telesca, chair of the Connecticut Independent Party, outside Hartford Superior Court Credit: Hugh McQuaid / CTNewsJunkie

Stefanowski’s lawsuit failed. Hotaling stayed on the ballot and appeared alongside his major party counterparts in two televised debates before voters headed to the polls last week. But according to unofficial results on the secretary of the state’s website, Hotaling and his running mate Stewart “Chip” Becket received 12,366 votes. 

That’s 0.97% of the total vote, a hair’s breadth shy of the 1% necessary to keep the Independent Party on the ballot for the 2026 governor’s race without a petition drive. 

In interviews Monday, Telesca and Hotaling separately pointed to national headwinds against Republicans, which they said prompted Connecticut voters to stick with Democrats rather than take a chance on an alternative. 

“They really didn’t like what the Republicans were offering on the national scale and I think that scared people into making sure that didn’t happen,” Telesca said. “It’s one thing for the Supreme Court to strike down Roe v. Wade but it’s a whole other thing for national Republicans to say they want to do a national abortion ban if they got control.”

Hotaling agreed, saying voters in Connecticut responded to national Republicans by voting blue.

“They were trying to vote for those they felt were strongest to protect their ideals, what they believe in, their values system and they felt like it wasn’t a moment in time where they could take a chance on the independent Party,” Hotaling said.

“Hundreds of people told me — hundreds across Facebook, Twitter, email, calls, texts, you name it — people told me, ‘We really love what you’re saying. We really like your plans. You were really clear and concise in the debates.’ But then in the same breath they’d say ‘We couldn’t vote for you.’” Hotaling laughed as he recounted the feedback. “They’d tell me they really liked me but they had to vote for Governor Lamont. What am I to say to that?”

Both Hotaling and Telesca said it was difficult for their party to compete with the television commercials and the level of spending shown by Lamont and Stefanowski, both wealthy and self-funding candidates who together spent more than $34 million, as well as spending by their parties and related political action committees. 

“I mean, come on, we spent probably around 50 or 60 thousand, maybe a little more, I’m not quite sure that’s Rob’s campaign,” Telesca said. “But jointly, the other side spent, what? $35 million? That’s a lot of flak to be up against, to try to be like, ‘Hey! We’re over here!’”

According to campaign finance documents, Hotaling’s campaign had spent around $61,000 through the end of October. 

Unless the election’s final results show that Hotaling received .03% more votes than what was unofficially reported, the Independent Party will need to collect 7,500 voter signatures beginning in January 2026 in order to qualify to place a candidate for governor that year’s ballot. 

The party also appeared to have fallen just short of the 1% threshold in the attorney general’s race, where Independent Party candidate A.P. Pascarella captured 0.94% of the vote, according to unofficial results.

On Monday, Hotaling said his future in politics was uncertain. After a “pleasant” conversation with Lamont last week, Hotaling said he was open to sharing ideas and potentially serving on a state board or commission if asked by Lamont. 

“What’s next for me? I’m just going to lay low,” Hotaling said. “We’ll see where things take me but I’m not making any decisions right now.”

Telesca said he would eventually work to collect signatures for another governor’s race but in the meantime he was looking ahead to next year’s local elections and hoping to identify candidates. 

“That is the lifeblood. We have to have stronger local chapters,” Telesca said.

But don’t expect a different tack from the Independent Party of Connecticut or a return to widespread cross-endorsements. Not if Telesca can help it. 

“I do feel it’s important we remain a ballot-access party because that’s what it’s really about, it’s about providing that platform for people who have something to say, a way to present themselves to the voters,” Telesca said. “That’s important.”