In Connecticut, blame game will mean raucous 2018 election

Republicans will try to focus voter attention on the budget problems, sluggish economy, wealth exodus, business departures and big tax increases that have tormented Connecticut during the past seven years of full Democratic control — the Senate, House and governor’s seat.

Democrats will seek to rally the “resistance,” making the case that placing Republicans in charge of the state will further enable the anti-women, anti-diversity, anti-labor, anti-environment, war-mongering agenda of the orange-haired one in the White House and his cohorts in Congress.

That sums up the 2018 election in Connecticut. The party that can better frame the debate could well prevail. Begin bracing for the attack ads that will try to do just that.

The results of the Nov. 7 local elections made it apparent that Connecticut Republicans have a Trump factor to worry about in 2018. When the Groton Town Council flips from eight Republicans and one Democrat to all Democrats it means many folks were voting the party line. Motivated by their anger with events in Washington, Democrats got out and voted.

It wasn’t just Groton. Democrats seized control of the local legislative bodies in Glastonbury, New Britain, New Fairfield, Southington and South Windsor, to name a few. While there were exceptions — the Montville council flipped from Democrat to Republican — it was on balance a good Democratic night and Trump was the common denominator.

Republicans running for state Senate and House seats in 2018, and the guy or gal the party settles on for governor, must send the message in 2018 that Connecticut’s problems have had little or nothing to do with Washington. The GOP’s job is to convince voters to give them a chance to make the hard choices that will be necessary to cut state spending, get the budget under control, and thereby provide the stability needed to rebuild the state’s economy.

Unfortunately for them, Trump and the Republican Congress are pushing a tax bill that would place a collective anchor around their necks by eliminating or capping the deductibility of state and local taxes. That would be a killer for Connecticut taxpayers and a sure way to help Democrats tie anger with Trump and Washington Republicans to Connecticut Republicans.

While Republicans would be wise to run away from Trump, Democrats have to figure out how to run away from Gov. Malloy and their own record of ineffectiveness in dealing with the budget and the economy.

Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman put party before personal ambition when she announced last week she would not run for governor. In different circumstances, Wyman could have been a great candidate, but her connection to Malloy and his low approval ratings would have made her an easy target.

Democrats need a fresh face, someone who can separate himself from the party’s past ineffectiveness, propose a new course and aim his fire at Trump. That guy may be Chris Mattei, a former federal prosecutor who has formed an exploratory committee and begun raising money.

Mattei led the prosecution that sent former Gov. John G. Rowland back to prison for covering up his political consulting work, in violation of federal disclosure laws. Giving Mattei credibility, he also led the investigation that derailed the congressional aspirations of former powerful House Speaker Chris Donovan, a Democrat.

What better candidate to make a foil of the Trump administration than a corruption crusader.

In a large field, I still consider Dave Walker to be the best choice for Republicans. A former U.S. Comptroller General under Democratic President Bill Clinton and Republican President George W. Bush, Walker would have no qualms about separating himself from Trump.

What he lacks in charisma, Walker could make up in credibility in being able to attack a budget deficit.

There is a long way to go before top of the ticket choices are made, and new candidates will emerge, but one thing seems sure — the 2018 campaign will be a wild and eventful one in Connecticut.

Paul Choiniere is the editorial page editor.

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