GOP funding lags in underticket races

Apart from the big-money races for governor and U.S. Senate, nearly a dozen major party candidates are vying for statewide office on the underticket, and in these contests, most Democrats are operating with far larger bank accounts than their Republican opponents.

Their advantage is attributable to two factors; More Democrats are running their campaigns under the state’s public financing system, and more are involved in primaries for the party nomination.

“There’s nothing like a primary to ramp up your political operation,” said Jonathan Pelto, a Mansfield political consultant and former strategist for the Connecticut Democratic Party. “It gets your message out earlier.”

This money has helped Democrats push their campaigns into full swing — purchasing yard signs, mailing materials and campaign attire. Meanwhile, their Republican opponents are just warming up, both with their campaign fundraising and getting their name and message out to voters, Pelto said.

Jack Orchulli, a Republican running to become the state’s next comptroller, has raised $2,360 and just this week launched a campaign web site.

The two Democrats running for the job, endorsed candidate Kevin Lembo and challenger Michael Jarjura, both have qualified for $375,000 from the Citizens’ Election Program — and the winner of the Aug. 10 primary will be in line for $750,000 more.

“Republicans should be worried,” Pelto said. “They are not in good shape right now to win… Democrats have a track record of raising money early, Republicans do not.”

Aside from governor and lieutenant governor, a Republican has not been a constitutional officer since 1998, when Paul J. Silvester was state treasurer.

With the exception of Treasurer Denise Nappier, who has no primary opponent and who has not yet qualified for public financing, the Democratic underticket candidates all have six-figure bank balances. No Republican opponent even comes close to that.

The Republicans battling for attorney general, endorsed candidate Martha Dean and challenger Ross Garber, have raised $26,000 and $73,000 respectively, and have vowed not to participate in the CEP.

Even without a primary challenger, Democratic attorney general nominee George Jepsen has qualified for public financing already, and has $827,000 to spend. Garber said that doesn’t worry him.

“I think I am going to have the resources to run a competitive race,” he said. He says he’s not sure he’ll be able to match Jepsen’s publicly-funded campaign budget, but doesn’t regret not taking the CEP route. “Absolutely not,” he said. “I think people will be focused on the issues.”

But Pelto said money plays the most important role in getting candidates elected, followed by grassroot organization and then the actual issues.

“Republicans are so opposed to this and they have made a catastrophic tactical mistake by not participating,” he said.

Of the 10 Republican candidates running for statewide office – including governor, lieutenant governor, secretary, treasurer, comptroller and attorney general – half are not planning on using public financing.

Nine of the 10 Democratic candidates for state office are using public financing.

“I have over $750,000 now to conduct my campaign. It doesn’t seem like either of my opponents will come close to that,” said Jepsen. “I have a clear advantage. I am free to talk full-time talk about the issues instead of spending hours dialing for dollars.”