DFER CT Playbook: Connecticut Republican Primary Update
August 29, 2018
DFER CT Playbook: 2018 Connecticut Republican Primary Overview
In our ongoing review of the 2018 Connecticut primaries- see Democratic analysis HERE – we wanted to share some coverage and trends in the 2018 Republican primaries. While comments on the campaign trail were limited in terms of education, we know that several of the Republican candidates mentioned – with little detail – plans for merit-based incentives for schools and teachers, school choice, and mandate relief in some debates. Most hewed closer to the broad conversation about preparing students for jobs in the future, and Stefanowski, the winner of the Republican Gubernatorial primary, does not mention education as a priority issue at all on his website. In our next edition of the DFER CT Playbook, we will feature A Data Dive: 2018 Voter Registration Trending.
Also, please join us for an Electoral Preview Conference Call with the DFER CT Political Team on Thursday, September 6th at 4:00pm EST. For dial in, please RSVP to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Republican Gubernatorial Primary
Bob Stefanowski delivered a stunning upset to both the Republican establishment as well as the other “outsider,” David Stemerman, who also petitioned onto the ballot and spent his own funds.
To begin, the two Republican self-funders nearly tripled or quadrupled the spending that Mark Boughton, Steve Obsitnik, and Tim Herbst made when they received $1.35 million as a result of their public financing grant.
While the difference in campaign funding certainly impacted the candidates, the map of results also indicates that campaign strategy made the major difference. Bob Stefanowski, a retired GE and DFC Global payday lending executive announced his candidacy in September 2017. By the end of the primary, he had spent $2.9 million of his resources, raised over $600,000, and benefitted from an independent expenditure of over $1.2 million. That totals $4.7 million, which was 25% less than what fellow self funder and petition candidate, David Stemerman, spent. Stemerman spent roughly $6.2 million of his own money on this primary contest.
A couple key notes about this primary contest:
In a primary where none of the candidates were known by the public, let alone the primary electorate, early money and attention proved key. Bob Stefanowski went up on television in January 2018 and Stemerman was next on television at the beginning of May. As establishment candidates fought over delegates and funding and Stemerman made the circuit in person, Stefanowski was the first on TV carving out his image before the airwaves were diluted, and that paid media backed up an image he began carving out in 2017 of a ultra-conservative candidate. In December, Stefanowski contracted for Reagan-era economist Arthur Laffer to conduct a media tour focused on cutting taxes. That fiscal conservative branding, while being largely ignored by Capitol reporters and most political insiders, stuck with Stefanowski through the Primary. Stefanowski started early and sold a message that would resonate with the Republican primary electorate, even if it was not scored and feasible.
Secondly, and there’s no evidence that this wasn’t a direct result of his early money, Stefanowski ran up the score with Republican primary voters in a majority of towns across the state even while there was a five-way race underway. While Mark Boughton performed well in the Danbury Region and Northwest Connecticut where he was known for his service as Mayor of Danbury, Stefanowski delivered a resounding result with a win in over ¾ of the towns in Eastern Connecticut – a significant turf that Boughton/Tim Herbst had been fighting over since they launched their campaigns. This is a region that Republicans have looked towards in recent years as a trove of votes in statewide elections.
What does this all mean?
First, it means that we can expect there will be Republican donors prepared to invest in independent expenditure campaigns to support Bob Stefanowski, on top of his ability to possibly self-finance and raise significant money from donors in Connecticut and across the country. Therefore, Ned Lamont’s resource advantage that helped propel him through the primary will be matched head on by Stefanowski and his allies.
Note: The day after the Primary, the Republican Governors Association already made a contribution of $650,000 to keep Republican attacks on television while Stefanowski regroups. Insiders are saying now that Stefanowski has spent as much personal resources as he is willing and able to do, and the rest of the funding for his campaign will need to come from fundraising and outside monies.
Second, Bob Stefanowski will have to pivot. He ran a smart primary campaign by locking in his conservative qualifications early with the primary electorate, but he was speaking to up to approximately 451,869 party faithful, which is only around 22% of the general electorate. Now he has to turn his attention to the 41% of the registered voters that are unaffiliated voters (as of August, unaffiliated voters were the largest bloc of voters with 857,056 registered voters). While Stefanowski looks to regroup after a surprise win, we will have to watch how quickly he can carve out the rationale for unaffiliated voters to pull the lever for him.
The message that statewide Republicans have settled on is simple: change is needed and Ned Lamont will be a continuation of the eight years of Dan Malloy. So as we saw with the RGA funded Super PAC, we can assume Stefanowski will look to pivot from the hard right push to tap into voter disenchantment with “Hartford.”
Yet, a public endorsement by President Trump and a trail of public statements (including an “A” grade given to the President for his first two years in office) will likely haunt Stefanowski. It will be a test of the Democrats discipline and the ability for reporters to cut through Stefanowksi’s avoidance of policy questions, aversion to condemning Trump or the national Republican party, and his ability to repeat “Malloy” as many times in one breath as possible even if his attacks on the sitting Governor are without substance.
And finally, Bob Stefanowski re-drew the primary and political map for the Republican Party in Connecticut. From skipping the Republican convention to getting into public fights over his conservative bonafides with the party establishment and apparatus, Stefanowski will have to bring people together. With legislative, constitutional, and federal candidates also on the ballot and likely to have more ties to the party workers and volunteers, Stefanowski will need to demonstrate his leadership as the top of the ticket so that down-ticket races carry the Stefanowski banner when they engage voters.
Statewide Contests: Lieutenant Governor, Attorney General, and Treasurer
The Republican contests for constitutional office went the same way as the Democratic primaries: all Row A. As with most years, constitutional offices will not gain as much attention – but the two notable contests were the primaries for Lt. Governor and State Treasurer.
In the race for Lt. Governor – the race to the right paid off. Connecticut’s conservative standard bearer – endorsed by Connecticut Citizens’ Defense League (CT’s NRA) and the Family Institute of Connecticut – Joe Markley stayed genuine to his beliefs and what he has been known for during his time in the State Senate. He bested two female municipal leaders, demonstrating that Connecticut Republicans are immune to the wave of female candidates running and winning primaries across the country. He handily beat an up-and-coming star of the Republican Party, New Britain Mayor Erin Stewart, one of the most Democratic cities in the state, and a politician with ambitions that Democrats have feared from the time she was elected.
And then in the race for Treasurer, Thad Gray delivered a 10+ point victory against another up-and-coming Republican star, Art Linares – the one chance that Republicans would have to include a person of color on their statewide ticket.
It will be interesting to see the next steps for these two up and coming Republican politicians. Erin Stewart still serves as Mayor of New Britain and is up for re-election in 2019, while Art Linares will no longer be in the State Senate in 2018 and because of a recent move will not be well-positioned to run for U.S. Congress against a popular moderate, Jim Himes.
Two Key Republican Legislative Outcomes:
16th Senate District (Southington, Cheshire, Wolcott, Prospect, Waterbury)
This seat is being vacated by Joe Markley, the Republican nominee for Lt. Governor. Rob Sampson, an equally conservative candidate, is seeking to succeed Markley in this district. This is undoubtedly a difficult seat for Democrats to pick up, as this was one of 9 districts that Donald Trump won in 2016, besting Hillary Clinton by over 13%. However, this is one of the districts to keep an eye on if Democrats appear to have the momentum at their back that we see across the country. One factor to keep an eye on is that Democrats pulled a major upset in 2017 as they took back the Southington City Council after 8 years in the minority, and Southington makes up over 40% of the district. A combination of strong local infrastructure, a Democratic Speaker of the House that is focused on turning out his votes to ensure victory in the fall, and statewide headwinds could make this an interesting race.
VIcki Nardello, the Democratic Party candidate in the 16th, proved that hard work pays off as she defeated first time candidate Dag Scalise of Southington. Nardello, having spent the past two decades involved in Democratic politics in the region, defeated Scalise in each town except for Southington where Scalise was able win a significant majority.
Nardello will face off against Sampson, testing whether she can build on the momentum in Southington. With the Supreme Court confirmation for Kavanaugh focused on choice and gun safety, statewide Democrats pounding Republicans about the contrast in values between the respective tickets, and a massive enthusiasm and engagement gap between the genders since Donald Trump was elected (starting with the Women’s March), Nardello has a unique opportunity to build on her early success and ride a wave of Democratic energy.
Upshot: This cannot be even counted as a toss-up at this point, but the environment and conditions should keep Nardello’s bid in the back of our minds.
14th Senate District (Milford, Orange, West Haven, and Woodbridge).
This is a contest to replace retiring Senator Gayle Slossberg. James Maroney, former State Representative of Milford, will be the Democratic nominee.
He will be facing off against State Representative Pam Staneski. Staneski lost her party endorsement to Anthony Giannattasio, Ranking Member of the Milford Board of Alders; but ended up defeating him in the primary by more than 2:1. Staneski enjoyed support from Themis Klarides.
This is a rematch of 2014 when Staneski defeated James Maroney by 151 votes. That was also a rematch of a 2012 election when there was Presidential turnout and Staneski lost to James Maroney by 498 votes. This election will likely hinge on turnout in Milford, the largest portion of the district.
Maroney is well known for his tireless campaigning, and with a partisan advantage for the Democrats – this will be a battleground. In recent years, for a host of reasons including personal ones, Democratic elected officials have hewed towards the Republican platform. But with a partisan registration advantage, and the presumed Democratic year that it is – Maroney has the ability to develop a strong contrast with Staneski from her time in office and her strict adherence to the party line (hence the Klarides endorsement), including highlighting Staneski’s support from conservative organizations like the CT Citizens’ Defense League which endorses candidates based on their commitment to repealing the Connecticut gun laws passed as a result of the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
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