Defeated Connecticut Republicans self-assessing
Connecticut Republicans are licking their wounds and performing a needed self-assessment as they grapple with yet another loss in a decade-long quest to win back the governor’s office that included big losses in the General Assembly.
“If there was any time for a changed election, for Republicans to do well, it was this one,” said Gary Rose, chairman of the Department of Government, Politics and Global Studies at Sacred Heart University.
“It’s really amazing, given the inherent problems that have beset our state: taxes, the deficit, the infrastructure problems are severe ... you put all that together and you would think that in an election, rather than double down, that people would say, ‘Maybe it is time for something different,’” Rose said Monday. “Which further shows just how deep this Democratic establishment goes here in Connecticut. The polls show a lot of frustration with the status quo. But the Trump factor was present. You can’t dismiss that.”
A cross-section of party insiders, former candidates and political experts agree several factors beyond the president played a role in Republican losses this year.
There was an outdated convention system that was circumvented by the party’s eventual nominee.
There were delays in public-funding grants that gave self-funding candidates a head start.
A shrinking Republican base was exacerbated by women voters, especially in the suburbs, who voted Democratic.
The brutal, five-way primary left rifts that might not have healed. The GOP ground game was eclipsed by Democrats. And primary voters decided, once again, to support a millionaire outsider with no political experience.
“We penalize people for being successful politicians and getting elected,” said Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton, who earned his party’s endorsement at the May convention but was defeated by Bob Stefanowski in the primary.
“We’ve done the same thing in the last three legislative cycles and we keep losing,” Boughton said Monday. “This notion of pulling in the businessman, who has never served the community in any way has pretty much proven to be not a good model. If we’re going to go for the rich guy with a checkbook who has no political experience, we’re going to lose every time. We have lost every time. Even Ned (Lamont, the governor-elect) had a little bit of political experience.”
Boughton said Republicans need to look beyond the primary to who can win a general election, and added he thinks the party can do more to target moderate Democrats and the large block of unaffiliated voters that ultimately decided the outcome of the election.
“The tent is getting smaller and smaller,” Boughton said. “We’re driving people out who agree on 80 percent of things with Republicans, but we label them a RINO (Republican In Name Only) because they’re more moderate on social issues. There has to be a continuing conversation of opening up our tent.”
Tim Herbst, the outspoken Republican who came in second at the convention but fourth in the primary, criticized the state GOP for a hands-off approach to campaigning. And he lambasted Republican primary voters for their “insatiable appetite for wealthy, self-funding outsider candidates.”
Herbst assumed that his 2014 run for state treasurer, and Boughton’s multiple attempts at the governorship, would have served them better in 2018. His internal polling after the May convention showed he and Boughton far behind Stefanowski.
“I looked at that poll, and I said, ‘Even primary voters are low-information voters,’” Herbst said. “Bob’s lead was predicated by the fact that he went up on TV in January. It said to me that even high propensity primary voters don’t pay as much of attention as I thought they would.”
Party Chairman J.R. Romano blames external forces — a convention process he’s long railed against, the unpopularity of President Donald Trump in Connecticut, and flaws in the state’s Election Day Registration process. He wants to review election day registration, in particular.
“There’s massive flaws within that system,” Romano said. “We’re also going to be bringing in donors, activists, town committee members, elected officials and we’re going to do a full recap. When you dive down into these numbers, the votes we lost were people who can afford to be offended by President Trump.”
Changes to the election process — making the conventions and primaries earlier in the year, opening the primaries and the timing of state elections grants — are all subject to legislative change. And with Democrats taking back a majority in the Senate and widening the gap in the House, it’s less likely the Republicans will get the changes they want to the convention process.
New Britain Mayor Erin Stewart, who ran a short-lived but highly publicized campaign for governor and a competitive race for lieutenant governor, was named by several party insiders as someone who could have been a difference-maker in last week’s election. Stewart, a millennial Republican who has publicly denounced Trump and leads a city where Democrats outnumber Republicans six to one, might have helped widen the Republican ticket’s appeal in a race where running mates don’t usually make that much of a difference.
“In New Britain, I don’t win without Democrats or unaffiliateds supporting me,” Stewart said. “I think the Republican Party has got to wake up and realize they may need to take that same strategy ... We let this election be a referendum on Donald Trump and I think that’s what it proved to be.”
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