MASHANTUCKET, Conn. (AP) — Connecticut Republicans endorsed former state House Minority Leader Themis Klarides, a moderate on social issues, to challenge two-term Democratic U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal in November. But she will still face a primary in August after two social conservatives received enough delegate support on Saturday.
About 50 miles away, Connecticut Democrats endorsed incumbent Gov. Ned Lamont and running mate Lt. Gov. Susan Bysiewicz for a second term, lauding the team's efforts during the coronavirus pandemic and helping to pass a roughly $600 million tax cut in the recent one-year revised state budget.
Klarides, 56, the first woman to lead the GOP House caucus, was the favorite entering the two-day GOP convention after receiving public endorsements from some top state Republicans. After garnering nearly 57% of the delegate votes, she urged the party faithful to coalesce for the November elections.
“Let's get together and turn Connecticut red,” she told the crowd at Foxwoods Resort Casino. Despite calls for unity in a year when the GOP feels optimistic, even in Democratic-leaning Connecticut, the party was still on track to have intraparty primaries in both the U.S. Senate and secretary of the state races.
Leora Levy, a conservative from Greenwich and the state's Republican National Committeewoman, and Peter Lumaj, a conservative and attorney from Fairfield, each won more than the 15% of delegate support needed to force a primary. Levy, who has raised more than $1 million, has made it clear she's not backing out.
“I am 100% invested in this. I put a lot of my own money in, much more than my opponent has,” she told The Associated Press. “I'm in it for the end. No matter what, I will let the Republican voters of the state of Connecticut decide who their candidate will be to go up against Dick Blumenthal.”
Lumaj said he plans to run in the August primary, stressing how the target will be Blumenthal. He said he hasn't been pressured to drop out.
“I want to make sure that if I get to the U.S. Senate we get someone who has the backbone and the character and fortitude to defend the Constitution,” he said.
Meanwhile, John Flynn of Norwalk, a carpenter, painter and former state legislative candidate, said he is collecting signatures to petition his way onto the GOP primary ballot for U.S. Senate.
Klarides described herself Saturday to the delegates as a “loud-mouthed Greek girl" who grew up in a family of immigrants seeking the American dream, contending she can win over voters in the Democratic-leaning state. Holding moderate stances on social issues, such as support for abortion and gay rights, Klarides, who lives in Madison, also considers herself a fiscal conservative who believes freedoms are being “eroded” in the U.S.
“Today in the U.S. Senate, statesmanship has taken the backseat to gamesmanship,” she said, adding later, “Freedom and individual responsibility are being crowded out by government overreach, oppressive mandates, cancel culture and economic policies that make it harder every day for families to achieve that America dream.”
Blumenthal, 76, who received the Democratic endorsement Friday, described the race in stark terms, saying that civil rights and the rights of women and workers are at stake.
“We have been through some tough fights. We know that we have those fights ahead and that the soul of democracy is at stake,” he told delegates.
Meanwhile, at the Democratic convention on Saturday, Lamont, 68, touted what he considers to be Connecticut's financial comeback during his first term. It follows years of budget deficits, spending cuts and state hiring freezes.
“This state was in trouble. This state had multi-billion-dollar deficits as far as the eye can see. Our transportation fund was on fumes,” he told the delegates at the Xfinity Center in Hartford. “Today, you know where we are? Three straight years of budget surpluses and the biggest tax cut for the middle class the state has ever seen.”
His challenger is Madison businessman and 2018 GOP gubernatorial candidate Bob Stefanowski, who received the GOP's backing Friday night. Stefanowski calls Connecticut “the definition of a failed state."
Democrats will have at least one primary as well. Erick Russell, former vice chairperson of the Connecticut Democrats, will vie against Dita Bhargava of Greenwich, a chief operating officer at an investment firm, and against Karen Dubois-Walton, executive director of the Housing Authority of the City of New Haven for state treasurer.
The Democrats, who endorsed Attorney General William Tong for re-election and state Rep. Sean Scanlon, D-Guilford, for comptroller, also backed state Rep. Stephanie Thomas, D-Norwalk for secretary of the state out of five candidates following several rounds of voting at the Xfinity Center in Hartford. Three of the remaining candidates garnered enough votes to potentially challenge Thomas in a primary, but it was not clear whether that will happen.
At the Republican convention, West Hartford Town Councilor Mary Fay was endorsed for comptroller and Apple salesperson Dominic Rapini for secretary of the state. However, Rapini's two GOP competitors, state Rep. Terrie Wood, R-Darien, and political strategist Brock Weber of Wolcott qualified for the primary.
On Friday, the GOP also endorsed state Rep. Laura Devlin, R-Fairfield, for lieutenant governor; state Rep. Harry Arora, R-Greenwich, for state treasurer; and Norwalk lawyer Jessica Kordas for state attorney general.