Washington – State Rep. John Shaban hopes to unseat Rep. Jim Himes to represent the people in Connecticut’s 4th District in Congress. But like many Republican candidates and office holders, he’s not yet endorsed Donald Trump, the Republican candidate who will be at the top of the ticket when Connecticut voters go the polls in November.
“It really hasn’t been his focus,” said Shaban campaign spokesman Jason Perillo of the presidential campaign.
Like Republicans across the nation, some Connecticut Republicans are conflicted about Trump, even as the Republican National Convention, where the billionaire mogul is expected to become the official GOP candidate for the White House, is less than a month away, scheduled July 18-21 in Cleveland.
While three GOP candidates for Connecticut’s congressional seats are enthusiastic about Trump, Shaban has not committed and two others have offered a cool embrace.
“Republican office-holders and candidates are in a bind – denounce Trump and you alienate his ardent GOP supporters, embrace him and you alienate pretty much everyone else,” said Norm Ornstein, a political scientist and resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, a Washington, D.C., conservative think tank.
Sherman First Selectman Clay Cope, who is running against Rep. Elizabeth Esty, D-5th District, says he’s backing Trump because the voters of the 5th District chose him as their presidential pick in Connecticut’s primary election.
“Mr. Trump won the presidential primary in the 5th District of Connecticut,” Cope said. “I respect the wishes of the Republican voters in the 5th District and will support the candidate they selected.”
Cope also pointed out that Esty supports former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton although Democratic primary voters in her district voted, by a slim margin, for Sen. Bernie Sanders.
Rep. Dan Carter, a Republican who is running against Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., gave a tepid endorsement of Trump Thursday, without mentioning him by name, something scores of other GOP office holders and candidates have done.
“I’m supporting the presumptive nominee of the Republican Party, who in Connecticut has a higher approval rating than the governor,” the Republican from Bethel said.
Polls show that Trump and Clinton have high negative ratings among likely voters.
University of Connecticut political science professor Ronald Schurin said moderated reactions to Trump are understandable.
“This is a way to provide minimal support while not outright defying the party,” he said. ‘There’s nothing to be gained for them with a wholehearted endorsement of Trump, and there is very little to be lost.”
Schurin said tepid endorsements and distancing is common when there is a controversial candidate, or someone with positions on issues that could cause a candidate a problem. He cited former Sen. Lowell Weicker’s “cold endorsement” of fomer President H.W. Bush in 1988.
Meanwhile, the Connecticut Democratic Party is trying to tie Carter, Cope and other GOP candidates to Trump, hoping it will alienate voters.
There are enthusiastic Trump supporters running for Congress in Connecticut. One is Daria Novak of Madison, who is running against Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District.
“I definitely, 100 percent support Donald Trump and will work in Connecticut to get him elected,” Novak said.
Angel Cadena, a Republican running against Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-3rd District, also has endorsed Trump strongly, saying he has supported him for years.
“I have been following him my whole life. Ever since I was a kid I knew he would run for president,” Cadena said.
Hartford businessman Matthew Corey, who has challenged Rep. John Larson, D-1st District, is also a strong Trump backer.
“He may not be politically savvy in how he speaks, but I know in his heart he wants to do the right thing,” Corey said.
Corey is also the only congressional candidate who plans to attend his party’s national convention in Cleveland.
Challengers usually try to become delegates or find other ways to attend national conventions because they are a one-stop shop for earned media – or free publicity – and a way to meet party leaders, prospective donors and others who can help a campaign.
All of the Democrats the Connecticut GOP challengers are trying to unseat will be at their party’s national convention in Philadelphia at the end of July as “superdelegates” supporting Clinton.
Corey is joining Connecticut’s 28 delegates and 25 alternates as one of several dozen “guests” of the state GOP delegation. All of Connecticut’s delegates are pledged to Trump.
Corey said he hopes to network and meet delegates from other states at the convention. But he’s also attending his first national party convention because, he says, “This is going to be history in the making.”
“If there’s a convention to go to, this would be the one in modern times,” he said.
Shaban campaign spokesman Perillo, however, said the Republican candidate from Redding,”will be here in Connecticut campaigning and meeting voters” when GOP leaders and party faithful meet in Cleveland.
Campaign spokesman George Linkletter said Cope “has a job to do as first selectman for the Town of Sherman.”
“He also plans to continue his outreach efforts to voters in the 5th District as part of his campaign to defeat Elizabeth Esty,” Linkletter said.
Dancing around support of Trump
Ornstein said many Republicans are skipping this convention because they want to “dance around” the controversies Trump creates with some of his comments.
“That means avoiding reporters and avoiding the convention. Maybe less true in the South, and more true in the Northeast, but true everywhere,” Ornstein said.
Most former Republican presidents and presidential candidates, who normally show up for the party’s big party, say they will miss this one.
The list includes both George W. Bush and George H.W. Bush, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.,and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who heads an effort to derail Trump’s candidacy. Many Republican incumbents and challengers in other states also say they will not attend their party’s event in Cleveland.
Gary Rose, head of the political science department at Sacred Heart University, said Connecticut political candidates may be making a mistake in distancing themselves from the real estate mogul.
“I don’t think the down ticket is doing itself any favors by backing away from Trump,” he said.
“A candidate like Trump resonates pretty well with the Connecticut Republican electorate and with independents.”
Rose said other Connecticut “self-financed entrepreneurs,” like Linda McMahon, co-founder of the World Wrestling Federation, and wealthy businessman Tom Foley, garnered sizable voter support, even as they lost their bids for U.S. Senate and the governor’s office, respectively.
“I can understand the reservations about Trump because of his rhetoric, but we are going to be very surprised by Trump’s showing in Connecticut,” Rose said.
But in the end, Rose predicted, it will be Clinton who carries true-blue Connecticut.
Schurin disagrees that Trump will have strong support in Connecticut.
“Trump will antagonize moderate Republican voters, and Hillary will shore up the Democratic base,” he said.