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Weicker: Connecticut needs moderate, not tea party Republicans

The last thing Connecticut's Republicans probably want is advice from Lowell Weicker.

But a party that is two senators, five congressmen, a governor and a legislative majority shy of respectability shouldn't ignore the counsel of anyone who once had the skill to get elected to a major office or two as a Republican in this state. There aren't that many of them.

In addition to Weicker, the only Republican elected senator since 1960, we have John Rowland and M. Jodi Rell, the surviving governors, and House of Representatives alumni Weicker, Rowland, Gary Franks, Larry DeNardis, Nancy Johnson, Ron Sarasin, Rob Simmons, Chris Shays and Robert Steele. That's a grand total of 10 living Republicans who were actually elected to something important in the past 50 years or so. At last report, Franks had departed for places unknown, leaving the ranks without Franks further reduced to nine.

Of that number, Rell, DeNardis, Johnson, Sarasin and Steele are rarely, if ever, heard from, leaving only Weicker, recent congressmen Simmons and Shays, and Rowland, whose advice is available daily from 3 to 6 p.m.

At any rate, Weicker's counsel is pretty sound, as opposed to - say - Rowland, who is paid to give unsolicited advice to his successor on the radio, even though his own time as governor ended prematurely and somewhat south of honorably.

Weicker's advice to the Connecticut Republican Party, offered at a nonpartisan forum on government earlier this month, is, "Stop following the Republican national philosophy. This is Connecticut. Start running men and women who are moderate Republicans who can get elected." (Linda McMahon ducked out of the forum, probably because Medicare and Social Security were likely to be discussed and she doesn't discuss entitlements, as she let us know last year. But I digress.)

Check out these mostly moderate men and women who managed to get elected as Republicans in the recent past and even the most devout Weicker deniers among you will admit there's hardly a tea party type among them. The clearest exception is Rowland, who currently plays one on the radio.

Then look at the numbers. There are roughly 420,000 registered Republican voters in Connecticut who must compete with about 775,000 Democrats and attract a healthy portion of the nearly 900,000 unaffiliated voters to win elections.

These unaffiliated are even willing to give up their right to vote in a party primary to retain their purity. They are also likely to shun the Republican or Democratic candidate who adheres too slavishly to party ideology, one reason neither party allows them to vote in primaries.

The far right Republicans, who do vote heavily in primaries, are the party's biggest problem because they tend to go for the candidates who are like them - obsessed with guns and prayer in school and against taxes, gay rights and abortion. They're also the candidates who never get elected in general elections.

If Republican primary voters can bring themselves to shun those who concentrate on these and other phony issues like the debt limit, they could enjoy some success next year. (Ronald Reagan increased the debt limit 18 times and accompanied it with tax increases 11 times, something President Obama finally mentioned Monday night after ignoring this rather pertinent point in earlier appeals during this nasty debate. He still hasn't mentioned the 11 tax increases.)

With an open Senate seat and a vacancy in the 5th Congressional District, Connecticut Republicans have a chance to improve their sorry lot in 2012. This could also be a year in which voters are so repelled by Congress, they'll be eager to unseat any incumbent, regardless of party. And with candidates who appear able to think for themselves without signing advocacy group pledges, Connecticut Republicans could possibly defeat a Democrat or two, unless they insist on picking Republicans who'd do better in the Iowa Caucus.

Dick Ahles is a retired journalist from Simsbury.

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