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    Monday, April 15, 2024

    Blumenthal big winner if GOP rejects Klarides

    How much has Donald Trump changed the Republican Party in Connecticut? Tuesday may supply the answer.

    In the Tuesday primary, Republican voters will be selecting the candidate who will run against the incumbent Democrat, U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal.

    Themis Klarides, 56, the former minority leader in the state House of Representatives, is the kind of Republican who can win in Connecticut. She would be the underdog, but Klarides would compete with Blumenthal.

    She won 11 straight elections in the 114th, a toss-up House district serving the towns of Derby, Orange and Woodbridge. Klarides is a fiscal conservative, a law-and-order candidate, but moderate on cultural issues.

    In 2017, from her leadership position, she supported a budgetary compromise that enforced spending caps and ended Connecticut’s volatile boom and bust budget cycle tied to rising or falling income tax revenues. That deal has much to do with the record surpluses Connecticut has seen of late. Klarides routinely fought with Democratic majorities on tax and spending priorities and opposed proposals to implement tolls on state highways.

    But none of that may matter because on Thursday her main opponent in the three-way primary, Leora Levy, received the official endorsement of Donald J. Trump. It came via a call that night during a Republican Town Committee meeting at which the candidates were introduced. The phone was held up to a microphone. Across the speakers came the voice that for many of us makes our skin crawl, but which sends the hearts of Trump loyalists aflutter.

    “I’m giving tonight my complete and total endorsement to Leora Levy,” came the familiar voice with its familiar overstatement.

    Trump then declared Levy would win the primary and defeat Blumenthal. Trump, the liar-in-chief, labeled Blumenthal “a total liar” and “a sleazebag.”

    But Levy would not defeat Blumenthal. He would win handily.

    In fact, if Republicans want any chance of beating Blumenthal, Klarides is the obvious choice. It is why she handily won the party endorsement at the Republican State Convention in May. Running against Klarides, it would be harder for Blumenthal to make the election about abortion rights or the threat that the same-sex precedent could be reversed — or about Trump. He might have to talk about inflation and the threat of recession.

    That is because in 2009 Klarides voted to legalize same-sex marriage and has long supported legal access to abortion. Those positions align with most voters in Connecticut.

    At age 76, Blumenthal is not the political powerhouse he once was as a popular, crusading attorney general. A recent Quinnipiac University poll found Blumenthal’s approval rating barely above water with 45% approval, 43% disapproval. He is still a formidable candidate, a solid favorite who will outspend any opponent he faces. But facing Klarides would make it a race and push Blumenthal to defend the Democratic record and his support for President Biden’s agenda.

    But Klarides’s unwillingness to appease the Trump crowd could cost her on primary day. She has admitted to not voting for Trump in 2020 and won’t peddle the stolen election nonsense.

    In attacks ads, Levy has declared, “Themis Klarides isn't one of us.”

    “Us” apparently being election-denying, insurrection-supporting Trump loyalists who see compromise on any issue as disqualifying.

    Levy is the worst kind of Trump supporter — an opportunistic phony.

    In an op-ed in 2016 published by the Greenwich Time, she depicted Trump as unfit to receive the Republican nomination.

    But that was before Trump won the presidency and his “modus operandi” became the mainstream Republican approach. Now on team Trump, Levy gained a seat on the Republican National Committee in 2017. She has repudiated her former support of abortion rights, and now wants the procedure outlawed except in cases of rape or in which the pregnancy endangers the mother’s life.

    The insider has become an “America First Conservative Outsider,” according to her campaign’s branding.

    In other races around the country, Democrats have spent tens of millions of dollars to support far-right Trump candidates in Republican primaries, betting those candidates can be more easily defeated in general elections. It is a cynical approach to election politics, with the potential to backfire by building up candidates willing to undermine democracy to secure and maintain power.

    While there is no evidence of that happening in the Connecticut Senate race, I have no doubt that the Blumenthal camp would rather face Levy.

    This mid-summer primary — there are also races for secretary of the state and treasurer — will result in a low-turnout vote. It is a closed primary. Only Republicans can vote in their party primary and vice versa for Democrats.

    Trump backers are notoriously zealous. Many will turn out. If moderate, pragmatic Republicans stay home, and if the state party has shifted deeper into Trump territory than perhaps is appreciated, Blumenthal could be smiling come Wednesday.

    Paul Choiniere is the former editorial page editor of The Day, now retired. He can be reached at p.choiniere@yahoo.com.

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