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State Republican Party has chance to rebrand

The Connecticut Republican Party will have to find a new chairman or chairwoman, perhaps in just a few weeks.

Whoever wins the position will have a very difficult job. The Connecticut Republican Party is in shambles. Democrats hold all five congressional and both U.S. Senate seats and have for several election cycles now. After winning enough seats to split the state Senate with Democrats in the 2016 election and narrowing its numerical deficit in the House to several seats, Republicans had bad election results in 2018 and 2020. Democrats again control large majorities in both chambers.

Only about one in five voters in Connecticut is registered Republican.

Money tends to flow to power and, politically, Republicans have none, making campaign fundraising difficult for the party generally, and for congressional and Senate candidates in particular. Matters could be worse if Connecticut was not one of the rare states where candidates for state office are eligible for public funding, giving Republican candidates for the state legislature resources their party could never afford.

The good news for whoever takes leadership of the party is that there is no way but up, since Connecticut Republicans appear to be at rock bottom.

The vacancy was created when party Chairman J.R. Romano abruptly resigned Tuesday via an email to members of the party’s State Central Committee.

“The decision is what’s best for the organization to move forward. It’s time for a new voice to be heard from Connecticut Republicans,” he wrote.

But what voice?

Romano had previously indicated he would not seek re-election to the difficult job when his term expired in a few months, but his sudden departure surprised party members. Was something else afoot? If so, it hasn’t surfaced yet.

Romano was first elected in 2015, and 2016 was his, and the party’s, best year in recent history. With Donald Trump at the head of the ticket and Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, two years from completing his second term, suffering from abysmal approval ratings, Republicans forged an 18-18 tie in the state Senate and came close to capturing the House. The party used those numbers to push fiscal austerity measures through the legislature.

Hard working and outspoken, but not terribly effective, Romano remained a strong Trump Republican throughout his time in leadership of the party. But the president turned out to be a disaster for Connecticut Republicans, driving up Democratic turnout in the 2018 and 2020 elections and turning off moderates who might otherwise vote Republican.

Whoever takes control — a vote by the State Central Committee could come at its Feb. 23 meeting — must help establish in the post-Trump era a clear Connecticut Republican brand that separates it from the more radical elements of the Republican Party at the national level.

Connecticut Republicans have had a past tradition of not being anti-government, but pro smart and effective government. Republican themes of fiscal constraint, of protecting the autonomy of town governance, and of defending business from over-regulation and high taxation remain popular with large segments of the population.

But the national party’s efforts to stack the federal courts and Supreme Court with jurists who would rollback constitutional protections of reproductive rights, same-sex marriage and other social advances; its obsessiveness with undocumented but otherwise productive immigrants; and the dog whistles under Trump to fuel white grievance and raise fears of a demographically changing nation, only turn off many voters who would otherwise consider the Connecticut Republican brand.

The Connecticut party should open its primaries to unaffiliated voters. GOP primaries in Connecticut, as with the Democrats, are open only to registered party members. Engaging unaffiliated voters in Republican primaries might form a connection with the nominated candidate and the party.

It also should avoid a repeat of the 2018 gubernatorial primary when Bob Stefanowski, with only 29% of the vote in a five-man race, won the primary. If no one gets 50%, require a runoff among top two candidates.

Connecticut could benefit from a resurgent Republican Party and more competitive elections. One-party dominance often doesn’t make for the best policies.

But first Connecticut Republicans need to decide who they are and that begins with the new leader they will choose.

 

The Day editorial board meets regularly with political, business and community leaders and convenes weekly to formulate editorial viewpoints. It is composed of President and Publisher Tim Dwyer, Editorial Page Editor Paul Choiniere, Managing Editor Izaskun E. Larrañeta, staff writer Julia Bergman and retired deputy managing editor Lisa McGinley. However, only the publisher and editorial page editor are responsible for developing the editorial opinions. The board operates independently from the Day newsroom.

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