Republicans pick Congressional candidates

Republicans began their state convention with Congressional nominations Friday, and now face the likelihood of primaries in three of Connecticut’s five House districts.

State Sen. Dan Debicella of Shelton was nominated to challenge Democratic U.S. Rep. Jim Himes in the 4th Congressional District, after easily capturing the Republican convention endorsement in that district. And 3rd District Republican Jerry Labriola also won endorsement while keeping his opponents from winning enough delegate support to qualify for a primary later this summer.

But Republicans in the 1st, 2nd, and 5th Districts all are headed for Aug. 10 primaries to settle their respective Congressional nominations.

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Former news anchor Janet Peckinpaugh celebrates with state Sen. John Kissel as she wins enough votes to wage a primary in the 2nd

The 2nd District contest began as a four-way race and went to a third ballot late Friday afternoon with no candidate having yet achieved 50 percent of the vote. After the first ballot, three Republicans — consulting firm president Daria Novak of Madison, Chaplin lawyer Douglas Dubitsky and former TV news anchor Janet Peckinpaugh of Essex — all had crossed the 15 percent threshold.

One Republican candidate who did not, business consultant Matt Daly of Glastonbury, dropped out of the race.

After no candidate had surpassed the 50 percent mark on the first two ballots, party rules eliminated the lowest remaining contestant, Peckinpaugh. On the third ballot, Novak beat Dubitsky, 53 percent to 47 percent. But Peckinpaugh and Dubitsky both qualified for a primary, because party rules only require them to achieve 15 percent of the vote on any ballot.

The winner will face U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney.

In the 5th District, state Sen. Sam Caligiuri of Waterbury captured about 70 percent of the vote in winning the endorsement to run against U.S., Rep. Chris Murphy. But Justin Bernier of Plainville, formerly an intelligence officer in the Naval Reserves, took 30 percent, easily qualifying for the Aug. 10 contest.

When the vote was announced delegates shouted, “No primary,” but Bernier walked around the room following the vote telling his supporters, “See you in the primary.”

Two other Republican candidates, Mark Greenberg and Bill Evans, decided to sit out of the convention process and said they plan to collect the 1,800 signatures necessary to get on the primary ballot.

“It’s better for me to go straight for the 92,000 registered Republicans in my district,” said Greenberg, an independently wealthy business owner who intends to spend not less than $1 million of his own money.

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State Sen. Sam Caligiuri with supporters as votes are tallied for the 5th Congressional District endorsement (Keith M. Phaneuf)

When asked how much he intends to spend, he said, “There is no ceiling.”

In the 1st District, Ann Brickley, a businesswoman from Wethersfield, received the Republican party’s endorsement with 54 percent of the vote. Mark Zydanowicz received 41 percent of the vote, qualifying for a primary. The winner would face U.S. Rep. John B. Larson.

Debicella, who took 77 percent of the convention vote in the 4th District, held off three challengers: Easton First Selectman Thomas A. Herrmann, Westport businessman Rob Merkle and Rick Torres, owner of Harborview Market in Fairfield.

Labriola received 90 percent of Republican delegate votes in the 3rd District and will face U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro, a New Haven Democrat. Labriola is a lawyer and the state Republican Party treasurer. The one other candidate, Jeffrey Cheney, did not reach the 15 percent threshold to qualify for a primary.

Technically, both Debicella and Labriola still could face primaries in their respective districts. That would happen if any of their defeated opponents take advantage of Connecticut’s open primary law and attempt to petition their way onto the August 10 ballot.