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    Tuesday, November 29, 2022

    Connecticut Republicans are in a deep hole

    Connecticut Republicans must find a way to define their state party as separate and distinct from the national Republican party or face long-term, second-class political status.

    In my pre-election column, I pointed to the state Senate race in southeastern Connecticut’s 20th District as a litmus test as to whether the radical and unpopular positions of the Republican Party nationally would hurt down-ticket Republicans locally.

    The 20th was up for grabs, with incumbent Republican Sen. Paul Formica opting not to seek another term. The Republican candidate, Jerry Labriola Jr. of Old Saybrook, ran as a centrist, emphasizing he supported abortion rights and distancing himself from election deniers.

    But Democratic candidate Martha Marx, former New London party chair, would not let voters forget that Labriola was part of a radical Republican party. A party that had engineered a U.S. Supreme Court decision that stripped women of the constitutional access to abortion services they had held for a half-century. The Republican party that had either pushed, or at least tolerated, baseless claims of massive election fraud. The party that refused to hold President Donald Trump accountable after he tried to retain power by rejecting the will of the people, instead pointing a mob toward the U.S. Capitol to disrupt the recording of the electoral vote — a blatant violation of Trump’s sworn duty to uphold the Constitution.

    Polls had indicated voters were more concerned with high inflation and the threat of recession than the overturning of Roe vs. Wade and the threat to democracy. Given that, I expected Labriola had done enough to insulate himself from the worst of the national party to keep the 20th a Republican seat. I miscalculated. A considerable number of district voters, enough to influence the results, decided they could not support the Republican candidate, not this time.

    Marx again ran strongly in Democratic New London, which was no surprise. What turned the tide was Marx’s ability to improve her percentage of the vote in every suburban community in the eight-town district, including for the first time – in three tries – winning the vote in East Lyme and Old Lyme.

    This story repeated itself throughout the state. In close races, disdain for what the Republican party has become tipped the results to Democrats. Republicans continued to lose legislative seats in Fairfield County, a region where it was long dominant. It is why Republican candidate George Logan, who had also run as a moderate, failed by a narrow margin to unseat Rep. Jahana Hayes in the state’s fifth congressional district. That race held out the lone hope of Republicans ending Democratic congressional dominance. No Republican has held a Senate or House seat from Connecticut for 14 years, a streak that will continue at least two years, given the Nov. 8 results.

    Disdain for the national Republican brand also contributed to Gov. Ned Lamont’s landslide defeat of Republican Bob Stefanowski in their rematch, though Lamont’s own popularity, and his centrist politics, contributed to his decisive victory.

    Nationally, Republicans — despite discontent among voters about high gas prices and spiking inflation — did not ride a “red wave,” as expected. Instead, they barely secured a House majority and saw Democrats maintain Senate control. Everywhere, Trump-backed election deniers went down to defeat.

    Now Trump is running for president again. Republicans face a nasty intra-party fight between the extreme MAGA wing, MAGA-lights such as Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, and what remains of the moderate bloc of the GOP.

    What can Connecticut Republicans do?

    Now that voters have approved a state constitutional amendment to allow early voting, Republicans should collaborate with Democrats in creating a reasonable early voting system. If Connecticut Republican lawmakers dig in against early voting, they will lose and find themselves linked with Republican efforts in other parts of the country to depress turnout among segments of the population.

    Connecticut Republicans should generate an urban agenda based on conservative principles, such as greater access to school choice, support for increased policing that also acknowledges the need for police accountability, and tax and fiscal policies that provide incentives for private investment in distressed neighborhoods.

    The Republican minority must offer alternative tax and spending proposals, — to draw contrast with the Democratic majority — not just criticize without offering a counter budget proposal.

    After seeing businessmen with no prior political experience lose four straight gubernatorial elections — Tom Foley in 2010 and 2014, Stefanowski in 2018 and 2022 — Republicans should turn to candidates for major office who have worked their way up through the political system. State Sen. Heather Somers of the 18th District, now the lone Republican senator from our region, should be seen as a rising star in the state party, someone who again demonstrated how to win as a moderate.

    Connecticut Republicans are in a deep hole. It will be for the good if they can start to climb out. One-party dominance — be it colored blue or red — is not healthy for the body politic.

    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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