WEST HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — Lagging in public opinion polling, especially among women, Republican gubernatorial candidate Bob Stefanowski went on the offensive Tuesday, accusing Democratic Gov. Ned Lamont of lying that he would pose a risk to Connecticut's abortion rights law.
In one of the testiest moments in the first of two planned gubernatorial debates, Stefanowski accused Lamont of "trying to scare women” in order to distract voters on economic issues.
“I hate to say it. He’s been lying for four months about my position. I can’t say it any clearer: I’m going to protect a woman’s right to choose. I don’t know what else I can say,” said Stefanowski, who is among a small number of Republican candidates nationally who support abortion rights but have been painted by Democrats as someone voters can't trust.
Lamont countered that Stefanowski, who supports enacting a parental notification law in Connecticut, is the one scaring women by making political contributions to anti-abortion candidates, including GOP U.S. Senate nominee Leora Levy.
“Actions speak louder than words,” said Lamont, stressing how there's no ambiguity about where he and Lt. Gov. Susan Bysiewicz stand on the abortion rights issue. “You can trust us. We're going to fight for your right to choose."
A recent Quinnipiac Poll showed Lamont leading Stefanowski among likely women voters, by a margin of 63-to-35 percentage points. A similar gender gap has appeared in other public polling.
Other highlights of Tuesday's debate sponsored by NBC 30 and Telemundo Connecticut include:
Stefanowski, who has made affordability a key piece of his campaign, reiterated his plan to provide tax relief using roughly $3 billion of the state's nearly $6 billion in surplus funds. Among other things, he has called for repealing the 1% meals tax, reducing the sales tax, extending the state's gas tax holiday through 2023 and instituting a state tax deduction for state and local taxes
“It’s unconscionable that we’re sitting on $6 billion when people are out there right now only filling half of their oil tank because they need food,” he said.
Lamont stressed that he signed into law a range of tax cuts that took effect this summer to help taxpayers grapple with inflation. He also touted efforts to pay down the state's unfunded pension costs, a move he predicted will ultimately save about $450 million annually. Lamont also defended setting aside billions to protect the state if there is an economic recession.
“I think we do not want to go back to the bad old days when we spent everything we could and hope tomorrow will be better, going from boom to bust,” he said.
Independent candidate Rob Hotaling said he agrees with reducing pension debt, but suggested using a small portion of the surplus to address the state's education achievement gap and make infrastructure investments.
A day after their release, Lamont touted the state's new crime data that shows between 2020 and 2021 there was a 3% reduction in overall crime. He said it was a positive trend, “despite some fearmongering” voiced by politicians. While he noted his efforts to fund additional training classes of state police troopers and provide more funds for state and local police, Lamont acknowledged that improvements can be made.
Stefanowski argued that many residents still don't feel safe and blamed in part Lamont's support of a recent police accountability law that he said has “decimated police forces across the state.”