Published January 25. 2014 4:00AM Updated January 25. 2014 2:30PM
Norwich - Republican leaders gathered at the Holiday Inn Friday to break bread and win support from fellow Republican voters in the 2nd Congressional District.
Six Republican gubernatorial candidates and one candidate for Congress - New London resident Lori Hopkins-Cavanagh - addressed the 265 people gathered at the dinner organized by the local group Grassroots East, which raises funds and provides campaign services for candidates running for the 2nd Congressional District, which has about 400,000 registered voters. The dinner also recognized Republicans who recently won municipal elections.
The candidates and other Republican leaders told the audience the state's and nation's poor track record has to change.
Hopkins-Cavanagh, a real estate broker who in 2011 ran for mayor in New London, is running for the House of Representatives' 2nd District seat currently occupied by Joe Courtney, a Democrat. She told the audience that Republicans had to come together to prevent more economic downturn and "autocratic rulers."
"Joe Courtney has failed us," she said.
"You might believe that a candidate who speaks truth cannot be elected, but the candidate with the best chance of winning will speak fearlessly and with conviction, with words that penetrate and resonate with a broad spectrum of voters from all walks of life - Democrats, Libertarians and Republicans who in frustration and in anger and in sadness share a common bond," Hopkins-Cavanagh said.
Six Republicans who have expressed interest in running for governor also spoke Friday. All said they would reduce taxes and cut spending.
"There is so much fire up there (in Hartford), I can't even see the smoke," said Greenwich businessman Tom Foley, who in 2010 lost to Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy by half a percentage point. "It's an opportunity for us."
State Sen. Toni Boucher, R-Wilton, said she was running to lower taxes. "This governor has taken it (Connecticut) to the bottom of almost every ranking and he thinks things are going well because we have a surplus … a surplus that he borrowed," she said.
Former West Hartford Town Councilor Joe Visconti, who favors the tea party philosophy, said he has a seven-year sales tax phase-out plan for Connecticut. "I'm in this race to make a difference," he said.
Shelton Mayor Mark Lauretti said his town has balanced 22 budgets, fully funded its pensions and has a fund balance that is 10 percent of its operating budget. "It's not hard to understand why people are leaving the state, why we lead every economic category (at the bottom)," he said.
Senate Minority Leader John McKinney, R-Fairfield, also focused on the state's economy. "We spend too much, tax too much, borrow too much, regulate businesses to death and don't have an economic development policy," he said. "Those are the problems."
McKinney said he challenged Malloy to propose his next biennium budget before the election. He said he would do the same. Had Malloy put out his two-year budget with the $1.5 billion annual tax increase before the election, he wouldn't have won, McKinney said.
Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton said if elected governor he would work to create a property tax exemption for seniors, repeal the business entity tax and cut the gas tax.
State Rep. Penny Bacchiochi, R-Stafford, who is exploring a bid for lieutenant governor, was the keynote speaker and asked Republicans to work together to get party members elected to all levels of government.
"It's time for the Connecticut comeback," she said. "It's time for the GOP - the growth and opportunity party - to shore up the cornerstone of this country, the cornerstones of freedom and prosperity. A lot is at stake as a country and a party."