The results are in from the most fascinating Republican primary in recent memory and the take home message is that Connecticut Republicans were willing to roll the dice. They voted for non-traditional candidates who have little interest in reaching across the aisle, but plan engage the Democrats in a no holds barred battle to determine whether the state remains habitable for the private sector middle class. Here are the most salient points.
1. Conservative candidates won. Bob Stefanowski said he would repeal the state income tax and did not back down from this position. His lawn signs said one thing: “CUT TAXES.” With this message, he won 30% of the vote in a five-way primary and the majority of the towns. Most of Stefanowski’s supporters know that repealing the state income tax is mathematically impossible, but they voted for him anyway because his heart was in the right place. His even more conservative partner is the winner of the Lieutenant Governor’s race, Joe Markley, who received almost 50% of the vote against the more moderate Republicans, Jayme Stevenson and Erin Stewart. Ms. Stevenson, the First Selectman of Darien, even resorted to calling herself a conservative towards the end of her campaign. The three gubernatorial candidates who never held political office – Stefanowski, Stemerman and Obsitnik – combined to win 60% of the vote, easily out polling the establishment politicians, Tim Herbst and Mark Boughton. What is interesting about this number, 60%, is that it is close to 58%, the percentage that Donald Trump received in the 2016 primary. Which leads to the second point.
2. The Republican Party did not run away from Donald Trump. Stefanowski won because he – like Trump – is both a successful business man and alpha male. He made little attempt to hide his contempt for politics as usual. David Stemerman, in his final push, saw this and ran advertisements saying that he actually voted for Trump. He outspent Stefanowski two to one but to no avail. Many party insiders ran away from Trump which is why they refused to be delegates for Trump at the Republican Convention. One did not, Susan Hatfield, the candidate for Attorney General. An unabashed Trump supporter and delegate, she won her race with an astounding 79%. Her debate with her Democratic opponent William Tong should be so entertaining that they could put it on Pay-Per-View.
3. The antiquated Convention System was shown to be useless. Stefanowski wisely realized he had no chance of winning the Convention or even securing the requisite 15% to be placed on the ballot. Instead he ran television advertisements in the spring and increased his name recognition. He then collected enough signatures to petition his way on the ballot. Meanwhile Herbst and Boughton were speaking to town committees in search of delegates. But outside of their political bailiwicks, nobody had the slightest idea who they were. The convention was held in May and the money released to Herbst and Boughton by the Citizens Election Program did not enter their campaign coffers until June. It was too little too late. Stefanowski and Stemerman – who also bypassed the Convention and self-financed – had large head starts in name recognition and had scooped up all the primo TV and radio spots. Herbst and Boughton could not catch up.
4. The Democrats have shifted to the left and thrown down the gauntlet too. Their gubernatorial nominee, Ned Lamont, has publically stated he will raise taxes and institute tolls. He won by 81%. An upstart liberal Jahana Hayes, easily defeated the Convention-endorsed establishment- candidate Mary Glassman to become the 5th Congressional district (northwestern Connecticut) candidate. But the most remarkable race occurred in West Hartford. When Jillian Gilchrest was refused a place on the ballot by Democratic insiders, she thumbed her nose at them and petitioned her way onto the ballot. She then proceeded to defeat a popular sitting 12-term assemblyman, Andy Fleischmann. Even if you are not a hard core liberal like Gilchrest, you gotta love this woman. In the rigged game of Connecticut politics, this hardly ever happens!
So those of you who are political junkies will be in seventh heaven watching the upcoming battles. The stakes are high. The Democrats are determined to keep their power and their taxpayer-funded sinecures. The Republicans are determined to make the state habitable for the rest of us. Get out the popcorn, a glass of cognac and stay tuned.