Jonathan L. Wharton

Dr. Gary L. Rose’s most recent work investigates Connecticut’s Republican Party, particularly the 2018 and 2022 gubernatorial and state official elections. While the seasoned Sacred Heart University political scientist examines the national party’s early beginnings, there’s little mention of state party bosses (i.e., J. Henry Roraback) or central committee’s operations. But Rose features current party Chairman Ben Proto in the preface and offers a colorful analysis about recent elections.

In his early chapters, Rose presents how the national Republican Party came to fruition in 1854. “Known as the ‘Grand Old Party,’ the Republican Party was viewed as the party that held the Union together and thus the party of American patriotism” (p. 4). Factionalism became an early concern, especially during and after President Theodore Roosevelt’s tenure. Yet, the GOP lost its luster during the Great Depression as President Franklin D. Roosevelt won re-election several times and maintained Democratic majorities in the U.S. Congress.

As a result, many voters particularly Black Americans, became registered Democrats. At this point, Rose analyzes the regional dimensions for both national parties since segregation remained a wedge issue. But he fails to include the GOP’s early involvement in Reconstruction as well as Radical Republicans’ electoral victories. Eric Foner’s Reconstruction and W.E.B. Du Bois’s Black Reconstruction offer some background in this era.

Rose recognizes that New England “would experience a shift in voter support brought on by the Great Depression” (p. 10). Demographic shifts, particularly with newly arriving European Catholics led many Italians and Irish to become Democrats. “The Republican Party was the party of rural as well as suburban residents, Protestants, and whites. Class factors were also relevant to party associations” (p. 12)

Rose then ventures into reappointment affecting the state’s General Assembly by midcentury. This would end rural and Republican “dominance” in the state legislature (p. 15). The national party gained more interest in other regions, especially with presidents Dwight Eisenhower and Ronald Reagan’s victories. There was some coattail effect for Connecticut’s congressional races. But Rose does not highlight some of the state’s party reforms during this critical period. Robert Satter’s Under the Golden Dome offers that this era brought an end to party bosses, patronage politics, and power for both state parties (chapter 3).

At nearly 100 pages, Rose’s third chapter jumps ahead to Connecticut’s state and congressional elections in recent years. Governor Ned Lamont and Republican candidate Bob Stefanowski engaged in a 2022 rematch of the 2018 election, even though former State House Minority Leader Themis Klarides expressed an early interest in the Republican ticket. But she “changes course” to run for the U.S. Senate (p. 54). Rose also examines US House of Representatives races and the state GOP’s candidates for the five districts. He admits, “Defeating one or more of the Democratic incumbents would of course be a Herculean task, although it certainly seemed possible in 2022” (p. 59). Rose goes on to explain the nail-biter 5th Congressional District race between US Rep. Jahana Hayes and former state Senator George Logan.

With the state Republican Party endorsing Klarides in the Senate race, candidates sought primary election support at the polls. Attorney Peter Lumaj and Leora Levy continued running against Klarides and Rose “cautioned about overgeneralizing, as only one-fifth of registered Republicans voted in the August 9 primary” (p. 118). Ultimately, Levy’s campaign spent so much money competing against fellow Republicans that she turned to former President Donald Trump for fundraising to try to match against Democratic incumbent US Senator Dick Blumenthal’s sizable war chest.

For the gubernatorial election, Stefanowski relied on self-financing and independent organizations’ SuperPAC funds (similarly, Lamont was ahead on this strategy, especially with attack ads against Stefanowski). Rose emphasizes the impact of campaign donors, advertising, and polls in the 2022 elections. The Stefanowski campaign changed staff before the general election and it “was not a small shake-up,” stresses Rose (p. 124). 

For his final chapters, Rose provides an overview of the 2022 election’s lessons. He stresses the coalition efforts by some campaigns toward unaffiliated voters, as they are the majority of registered Connecticut voters. “Although unaffiliated voters broke for both candidates, the numbers seem to suggest that Lamont outperformed Stefanowski among this crucial block of voters as well” (p. 155). Then Rose suggests party reform measures like open primaries, running compatible tickets, ending the party’s reliance on multi-millionaire candidates, and cultivating Black, Latino, and Asian American voters. “With the white population in Connecticut shrinking and with persons of color increasing, common sense suggests that the Republican Party must devise outreach strategies that relate to these voters and which convince them why Republican policies are beneficial to their economic and social interests” (p. 168).

For Connecticut political watchers, Rose’s Connecticut Republicans provides an insightful overview of our recent elections. If he should offer a similar analysis for Connecticut Democrats in the near future, it would make for an interesting counterpoint.

EDITOR’S NOTE: You can purchase Professor Rose’s book, Connecticut Republicans, here!

Jonathan L. Wharton, Ph.D., is an associate professor of political science and urban affairs at Southern Connecticut State University in New Haven.

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.