Political newcomer Bob Stefanowski won the GOP nomination for governor of Connecticut on Tuesday, a seat Republicans stand a good chance of retaking following eight years of Democratic rule.
Stefanowski, a wealthy former investment banker and ex-Democrat, bested four other contenders in the packed Republican race: Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton, consultant and Navy veteran Steve Obsitnik, local GOP official Tim Herbst and hedge fund manager David Stemerman.
Boughton was seen as a slight favorite in the race, having served as mayor for 15 years and running for governor twice before.
Connecticut is generally viewed as safe Democratic ground; Hillary Clinton carried it by nearly 15 percentage points during the 2016 presidential election, its congressional delegation is entirely Democrats and the party similarly maintains unified control of the state legislature.
Yet Republicans see reasons to be optimistic about their chances of retaking the governor’s mansion during a particularly challenging election year, one that has been increasingly marked by talk of a coming “blue wave” in November.
Two-term Gov. Dannel Malloy (D), who is not running for re-election, ranks as the least popular governor in the nation ― even less popular than President Donald Trump, according to polls conducted earlier this year. Republicans are also looking to capitalize on the state’s lagging economic growth. Stefanowski, as well as his fellow GOP challengers, proposed phasing out the state income tax in an effort to stimulate business and capital investment.
“It’s clear that this race is about taxes, and as we head into Tuesday, I am the only candidate that Republicans can trust to eliminate the state income tax, bring jobs back to Connecticut and reverse the damage Dan Malloy has done over the last eight years,” Stefanowski said in a debate earlier this month.
The plan would likely balloon the already daunting $4.6 billion-plus state deficit, however.
Democrats also say the economy isn’t working as it should, especially when compared with other states. But they argue that it needs to work well for everyone ― not just the wealthy. They support proposals to increase the minimum wage to $15 per hour, enact paid family leave and pay equity, and increase access to health care.
“It’s puzzling as to how and why and where we lost our way, but we lost our way,” Greenwich businessman Ned Lamont, who will face Stefanowski as the Democratic gubernatorial nominee in November, told The New York Times last week.
Lamont rose to national prominence when he defeated then-Sen. Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.) in a 2006 Democratic primary, a snub that was largely attributed to Lieberman’s support for the Iraq War. The former senator went on to win re-election in the general election as an independent candidate, however.
Republicans hold 33 governor’s seats across the country, while Democrats maintain only 16 ― a lopsided margin that could have huge ramifications in coming years. Winning more governorships in 2018 would give Democrats a crucial stake in the decennial redistricting battles that will take place after the 2020 census, for example.
Democrats are also likely to tie GOP candidates running for office this year directly to Trump, arguing that states need to act as a check on his policies on immigration, health care and the environment.
“Connecticut Republican candidates have spent the entire primary pledging their undying loyalty to Donald Trump,” said Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, chairman of the Democratic Governors Association. “Ned Lamont is the only candidate in this race who will stand up to Donald Trump when his policies hurt Connecticut and govern with strong principles that will create a bright future for Connecticut. This November, voters will have a clear choice between Connecticut values and Trump values.”