Crowded GOP field descending on Mohegan Sun

Mohegan — Five Republican candidates for governor will state their cases here Thursday evening during a debate being broadcast live from Mohegan Sun’s 400-seat Cabaret Theatre.

Organized by 94.9 News Now, the event will air live starting at 6 p.m. on the Ledyard-based radio station as well as on WDRC-AM 1360 in Hartford.

The GOP field, narrowed in May during a party convention at Foxwoods Resort Casino, remains somewhat unwieldy, made up of the endorsed candidate, Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton, and four others who maintain they’re “outsiders.”

With an Aug. 14 primary little more than a month away, it’s hard to say where the race stands.

“A five-candidate race is a very tricky race to predict — or even analyze,” Ronald Schurin, an associate professor of political science at the University of Connecticut, said Wednesday. “A candidate could end up winning with less than 30 percent of the vote.”

In such a crowded field, a candidate with a base of support obviously has an advantage, Schurin said, suggesting Boughton has to be considered at least one of the front-runners by virtue of his party endorsement. Two others — Tim Herbst, a former Trumbull first selectman who portrays himself as a “Hartford outsider,” and Westport tech entrepreneur Steve Obsitnik — garnered enough convention delegate support to qualify for the primary.

David Stemerman of Greenwich, who launched his campaign after shutting down Conatus Capital Management, a hedge fund he founded in 2008, and Bob Stefanowski, a Madison business executive who held top posts at General Electric and UBS Investment Bank, petitioned their way onto primary ballots while eschewing public campaign funds.

Boughton and Herbst have qualified for $1.35 million Citizens’ Election Program grants by meeting private fundraising benchmarks.

Obsitnik could learn shortly before the debate whether he, too, has qualified for the assistance.

The State Election Enforcement Commission, meeting at 3:30 p.m. Thursday, is scheduled to consider Obsitnik’s grant application. The commission also is investigating whether the Obsitnik campaign violated election rules by coordinating with an independent committee that supports his candidacy.

Stemerman and Stefanowski, without demonstrated bases of support, would appear to have the steepest uphill climbs, according to Schurin. Could their lack of government experience be an asset?

“Nationally, the outsiders have tended to do well in recent election cycles,” Schurin said. “(Donald) Trump was certainly an outsider. ... But Connecticut has not looked fondly on political outsiders, even, as in the case of Linda McMahon and Tom Foley, when their campaigns have been well funded.”

McMahon, now a Republican Trump administration official, lost her campaigns for the U.S. Senate against Democrats Richard Blumenthal in 2010 and Chris Murphy in 2012. Foley, also a Republican, lost gubernatorial races against Democrat Dannel P. Malloy in 2010 and 2014.

Overall, Schurin said, this may be a better year than usual to be a Republican candidate in Connecticut, traditionally considered a “blue” state.

“You’ve got a very unpopular incumbent governor (Malloy, who is not seeking re-election), and Republicans have made gains in the state legislature in recent cycles, so there’s reason for optimism (among Republicans),” he said. “On the other hand, Trump is not popular in much of the state, which creates a challenge.”

The two Democrats running for governor in an Aug. 14 primary — Ned Lamont, the party-endorsed candidate, and Bridgeport Mayor Joe Ganim, a petitioner — are debating Thursday night in New Haven.

b.hallenbeck@theday.com

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