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Bob Stefanowski nominated by Connecticut GOP for governor in rematch against Gov. Lamont

Hartford Courant logo Hartford Courant 5/7/2022 Christopher Keating, Hartford Courant

In his second run in four years, Bob Stefanowski took a major step Friday night when he won the Republican Party’s nomination to run this fall against Democratic Gov. Ned Lamont.

Nearly 1,200 energized delegates gave the candidate two standing ovations as they believe they have momentum nationally this year because of President Joe Biden’s sluggish poll ratings.

After pledging to spend $10 million of his own money, Stefanowski has already stepped up his attacks against Lamont, who said this week that he prefers to avoid negative campaigning.

“We did it!’' Stefanowski exclaimed to the crowd after winning the nomination in a ballroom at Foxwoods Resort Casino.

Stefanowski beat back a weak challenge Friday night by Granby resident Susan Patricelli Regan, a relative political newcomer and conservative Republican who was unknown even to some party insiders. An accomplished polo player, fox hunter, and marketing executive, Regan, 78, is a strong supporter of the First and Second amendments who raised less than $10,000 against Stefanowski’s large war chest.

During a long roll call of 169 towns, Regan had less than 4% of the vote throughout the tally and ended with only 36 delegates or 3.09%.

In his acceptance speech, Stefanowski blasted Democrats for controlling the state legislature for most of the past 40 years.

“Connecticut is the definition of a failed state,’' Stefanowski told the crowd. “Connecticut has the second highest taxes in the entire country. ... This is not the Connecticut I grew up with, and it’s not the Connecticut many of you grew up with.’'

During his 15-minute speech, Stefanowski outlined his vision for the state, citing “personal freedom, individual liberty, smaller government that allows residents to live their lives as they see fit.’'

He added, “A vision to make Connecticut safer — to put our complete, absolute, and utter support to the men and women of law enforcement who are putting their lives on the line. ... A vision to lower taxes, not the one-time, temporary tax relief and the election-year charades we see from the Democrats, but the permanent, fundamental, tough choices to make Connecticut more affordable for us, for our kids and more affordable for our grandkids.’'

Quoting President Ronald Reagan as “one of the best Presidents of all time,’' Stefanowski said, “Government is not the solution to our problems. Government is the problem.’'

He added, “Connecticut has been the poster child for bad government from the Democratic side for 40 years now. State government has finally pushed us too far.’'

But Lamont’s spokesman said Stefanowski offered an incomplete analysis of the state.

“It’s not surprising to see Bob make up fake facts about our state’s economy,’' said Jake Lewis, the campaign spokesman. “But voters know the truth, and they see it in their pocketbooks. Governor Lamont’s leadership turned our state’s finances around, created a $4.8 billion surplus, and made our state stronger than ever. Bob is too extreme for Connecticut. He opposes paid leave and a minimum wage and opposed the Governor’s $600 million tax cut as ‘pandering.’ ’'

A major difference for Republicans this year is they will avoid a gubernatorial primary for the first time since 2006 when M. Jodi Rell was governor. With multiple candidates in the primaries in 2010, 2014, and 2018, Republicans spent time, energy and money fighting each other before losing to Democrats Dannel Malloy and Lamont in the November elections.

Stefanowski, who turns 60 later this month, is already running a different campaign than he did four years ago. Instead of focusing on eliminating the state income tax as critics called him a single-issue candidate, Stefanowski is now talking about a wide range of issues from high gasoline prices to an increase in juvenile crime to spending federal stimulus money with more transparency.

As a first-time candidate, Stefanowski came out of nowhere in 2018 and almost defeated a heavily funded Democrat for governor — losing by about 44,000 votes. Stefanowski came within three percentage points of beating Lamont, who has spent more than $40 million of his own money in three statewide races.

“Bob has become a much better candidate over the last four years,’' said Ben Proto, the state party chairman with campaign experience that dates back decades.

Stefanowski will be running with state Rep. Laura Devlin, 62, of Fairfield, who is perhaps best known for traveling around the state to strongly oppose the controversial plan for electronic highway tolls by Lamont that was rejected by the legislature. She held numerous town hall meetings and forums with state Sen. Henri Martin of Bristol as they are both ranking members of the legislature’s transportation committee.

Brookfield first selectwoman Tara Carr, a retired Lt. Colonel in the U.S. Army who served in Afghanistan and initially had no plan to run for office, nominated Stefanowski. After talking mostly about her career, she was tapped on the shoulder by a convention official and asked to wrap up her remarks as she was running against the time limit.

Stefanowski’s wife for more than 30 years, Amy, seconded the nomination, saying, “It’s not about any one person or any one policy. It’s about leadership.’'

Noting they met at Sikorsky in 1987, she said, “He’s not afraid of a challenge, and he’s always the first one to hold himself accountable. He’s not a politician.’'

Republicans gave strong applause to a special guest who was a featured speaker before the nominations.

“Our problem with this country is fifth, sixth, and seventh generation white liberals who don’t have a passport,’' said Ambassador Richard Grenell, former acting director of national intelligence under President Trump. ‘‘Stop being afraid of being called a racist, sexist or homophobe. ... If you’re not their parent, don’t talk to them about sex, you creep. ... You are living in the greatest country in the history of the world.’’

During his opening remarks, Proto ripped into Democrats — saying Republicans are prepared to fight this year in every race from governor to probate judge.

“Forty years of Democratic rule have taken us to the bottom of every category,’' Proto said. “We have a generational opportunity. ... You and I, together, can do it. ... Folks, it starts right here, right now. ... Yes, we may have some primaries, and that’s OK.’'

Referring to past tax increases and the latest votes by the legislature, Proto added, “Don’t be fooled when they say they’ve cut your taxes this week.’'

Besides Stefanowski and Devlin, Republicans nominated other candidates Friday night. Those included attorney general candidate Jessica Kordas, 39, of Norwalk, who grew up in the working class and later became a criminal defense trial attorney handling domestic violence, drug crimes, and juvenile offenses, among others.

House Republican leader Vincent Candelora nominated fellow state Rep. Harry Arora, a Greenwich investment trader, as the party’s candidate for treasurer — a key position overseeing the state’s $45.5 billion pension fund.

“He was an immigrant, born in India, who moved to America,’' Candelora told the crowd. “He went on to a degree at Harvard.’'

Known for his sometimes-lengthy remarks on the House floor, Arora noted that Republicans have not held the treasurer’s office for 25 years.

“They have run this office on faulty math,’' Arora said.

In a video message that was shown on a large screen, Republican national chairwoman Ronna McDaniel said, “Republicans have an incredible opportunity to make real progress in Connecticut. Let’s send Joe Biden and Democrats a message. ... Let’s take back Connecticut.’'

On Saturday, former House Republican leader Themis Klarides of Madison will be facing off against Greenwich fundraiser Leora Levy for the U.S. Senate nomination. Levy was nominated by President Donald Trump to be ambassador to Chile. Levy was never confirmed before Trump’s tenure expired.

Supporters of Klarides are confident that she will win the nomination, partly because of the goodwill from hundreds of Republicans that she met during 22 years in the legislature, including six years as Republican leader. Klarides supporters question whether Levy will receive the necessary 15% of the delegates to force a primary, but Levy has been touting endorsements from major figures like Linda McMahon, who spent $100 million on two losing races for U.S. Senate.

Levy’s spokesman, however, said she will be running in the primary in early August. They expect to receive 15% of the delegates Saturday, but they would otherwise need to collect about 8,500 signatures by June 7 to qualify for the ballot.

“I hope no one has a primary,’' said Jeff Santopietro, a Klarides supporter and longtime Waterbury Republican who served as state coordinator for Trump’s 2020 campaign. “It’s not a good thing for us to have primaries, but it is the American way. It’s better to come out of here united and win.’'

Christopher Keating can be reached at ckeating@courant.com

©2022 Hartford Courant. Visit courant.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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