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Connecticut Republicans, loyal soldiers in the party of Trump

The reelection campaign of Sen. Heather Somers bristled this week at a campaign flyer from her opponent linking her to President Trump, calling it illegal, a violation of the state's campaign finance law.

Election enforcement officials will eventually decide whether challenger Col. Bob Statchen, a lawyer, is correct in his vigorous denial of an official Republican election complaint over the flyer, which links Somers and Trump. 

But what might stick most with voters is the great lengths that Connecticut Republicans have gone to this election season to distance themselves from the person at the head of the ticket they are running on, the one person political candidates traditionally wholeheartedly embrace.

Indeed, in debates this week sponsored by The Day, both Somers and Republican Sen. Paul Formica of East Lyme pretended like the Republican president has no bearing on the lives of their Connecticut constituents, as if their own state government isn't going to have to cope with the turmoil stirred by Trump, from a bungled pandemic response to inciting racial turmoil, eliminating tax deductions for blue states like Connecticut and doing nothing to tame climate change.

Most Connecticut Republicans have gone to great lengths to neither support nor repudiate Trump, to not answer any questions about him or his policies.

And yet, despite the silence, we can see the state's Republican establishment is quite Trumpian in behavior, from attempts at voter suppression to their own votes against gun control, family leave, a higher minimum wage and an effort to make police officers more accountable, from increased training to wearing body cameras.

I was especially struck by the way Sen. Formica's Democratic challenger, Martha Marx of New London, a nurse, managed to bring home the difference between the policies of Trumpian Connecticut Republicans and the state's Democrats.

Her description of how her work takes her into the homes of the working poor was very powerful, and she made a heartfelt argument about how an extra $40 or $80 a week from a raise in the minimum wage could be life changing, especially for a single mother trying to put food on the table.

Making employers pay a fair wage, she added, could save the state from the need to provide a larger safety net.

Formica complained about the negative impacts on businesses of a higher minimum wage.

"As probably one of the only job creators on the stage this evening ..." a Trumpian Formica began his answer on the minimum wage, an obvious jab at his only opponent.

I don't see, though, how running a restaurant, or a chain of hotels and golf resorts, for that matter, is more noble than a career in caring for the sick.

A thorough and statesmanlike candidate, Statchen also hit hard on his opponents' votes against things like a higher minimum wage, paid family leave and banning bump stocks, gun superchargers.

He noted that even Trump eventually came around to supporting a ban on bump stocks.

He also called the senator out for denying that there is systematic racism in this country.

Somers sighed a lot and rolled her eyes more than a few times, an apparent debate technique, often looking annoyed she had to answer her opponent's arguments.

While watching the debate for the 18th Senate District, I couldn't shake the image of a high school debate for class president, with candidate Somers gathering with friends later at a sock hop, slurping milkshakes and laughing about the other candidate, a nerd with a briefcase.

I felt good about the debates, mostly because I liked what I heard and have already voted, using a dedicated ballot box at my town hall.

One of the reasons Somers gave at the debate for voting against the use of the ballot boxes, to make pandemic voting easier, is that someone might maliciously throw a cigarette inside one and destroy the votes.

She gave similar, fantastic Trumpian-like reasons for her votes against measures that would make life better for the people of Connecticut, especially the neediest and most vulnerable.

I'm pretty sure my vote made it past the dangers of a cigarette ballot box bomber and is safe.

This is the opinion of David Collins.

d.collins@theday.com

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