Former Republican State Chair Chris Healy explains why Bob Stefanowski won the Republican primary for governor.
Often, we in politics miss the obvious and the 2018 primary results bear that out. We political types are always last in on the joke and the joke was on us. Bob Stefanowski defied all expectations and easily won a high-turnout Republican primary because he got to GOP voters first and burnished his image and message before anyone could get off the dime.
Stefanowski won because he promised to get rid of the odious income tax which has dragged this once peerless economic engine into a bloated entitlement state and unlimited resource for negligent state spending and record debt. Between he and Mark Boughton, who also pledged to end the tax (but over a decade), they collected almost half the primary vote.
GOP primary voters said they are tired of paying taxes, tired on public sector unions, tired of having their homes worth less, tired of waiting six hours at the DMV–and they want something done about it yesterday. They are not interested in splitting the difference on social programs or supporting failed school systems or told nothing can be done on the state employee locked-in contracts. To many of these voters, it’s about life and financial ruin and anyone who has a plan that dramatically changes that is okay with them.
While not a seasoned campaigner, Stefanowski showed discipline in his approach. It started last fall with TV ads, mostly on FOX News that monopolized the debate. His message was roughly: “Dan Malloy destroyed Connecticut and I have a plan.”
Stefanowski spent freely, unencumbered by trolling for small-dollar contributions or corralling convention delegates who are more open to traditional office seekers. He invited Republicans to hear his plan in detail, paid Reagan-era economist Art Laffer to validate it and worked the Republican meeting and dinner circuit.
Many Republican primary voters, mostly 50 years and older, got comfortable with the message. Like any product hitting the market first, Stefanowski kept pushing a simple message on an wide open market. He learned something at GE–overpower the opportunity before you and hold on.
By the time the Republican field had winnowed from 14 candidates to five hopefuls, Republican voters had already grown weary of the back and forth among the preliminary candidates and semi-finalists. It all became a low fever, a dull hum, where no alternative compelling theme emerged through the clutter.
There was very little difference in all the messages from these candidates–no marker that set anyone apart that could inspire Republican voters to give a second look because Stefanowski got there first and stayed with it. When his opponents attacked him for a shoddy voting record and being a Democrat for a short period of time, Stefanowski endured it but kept at his message and painted his opponents for taking taxpayer-subsidized Citizen Election Program funding as freeloaders. Stefanowski showed he was willing to go the distance.
Within an hour of the closing of the polls, the returns showed the depth of Stefanowski’s support including areas where both Boughton and Trumbull’s Tim Herbst were suppose to dominate. Neither of these accomplished–and yes, established politicians, could produce the numbers they needed.
There were predictable hard feelings and some poor behavior by some of the vanquished candidates and their supporters. Many privately scoffed that Stefanowski has no chance against Lamont since some doubt he has the additional resources to match Lamont’s family riches. Other out-of-work consultants and office holders burned the phone lines outlining doomsday scenarios for the entire ticket.
It is an understandable reaction because Stefanowski beat the house and made history. But the facts are undeniable–32 percent of the Republican faithful turned out and Stefanowski won across the state. Most insiders saw him finishing third at best with at most a 20 percent participation rate. Despite Democrat hopes and Malloy trash-talking that Republicans had abandoned the President and slunk home, Republicans are more than ready to torch some snowflakes.
Republicans who saw their candidates fail need to lose the attitude, break out their ATM cards and checkbooks and sign up rather than surrender at the Maginot Line. And to prove there is hope, a pro-Stefanowski Super PAC was up on the air Thursday with a scorching ad against Lamont, highlighting a radio interview where the Greenwich scion said higher taxes were coming.
Ned Lamont–Bulk Purchaser
Lamont isn’t Dan Malloy, or Bill O’Neill, Ella Grasso or Abe Ribicoff. Lamont performance Tuesday night was one “YEEEEHAW” away from Howard Dean-land. During his remarks, Lamont appeared to nearly stroke out with his strained gibberish which culminated in a call for “bulk purchasing.”
In his calmer moments, Lamont defends the state employee unions, supports tolls, concedes no significant reforms are anticipated for at least a year or until Ned meets everyone at the mystical “table” of participation where the unions outline their next list of demands.
Republican primary voters have given the GOP ticket and down ballot candidates its marching order–do something about our state before it is too late–run on something big and don’t back down. It’s more than likely to conclude there are enough Unaffiliated voters and even some Democrats who feel the same way.
The voters are ready. Now it is time to go amongst them.