Ned Lamont and Susan Bysiewicz showed signs Tuesday night of edging toward a run for the Democratic nomination for governor as Lamont began polling and allies of Bysiewicz helped expel Middletown Mayor Dan Drew, an early candidate for governor and a rival for support in their shared political base of the city, from the Democratic Town Committee.
Lamont, an unsuccessful candidate for U.S. Senate in 2006 and governor in 2010, confirmed in a telephone interview that he was testing his support among Democrats and the desire of the electorate for a candidate who promises substantive change. The poll measured Lamont against the potential field of Democratic rivals, said one source.
“I think I’m the change agent,” Lamont said. “Steady as it goes, it’s not me.”
If Lamont is going to run, spending money on a poll most likely starts a 10-day countdown clock for him to create a candidate committee under state campaign finance law. He said that was unlikely to be a problem.
“I’m going to know pretty fast,” he said.
Lamont became a national figure in 2006 when he ran as an antiwar candidate against U.S. Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman, winning a Democratic primary. Lieberman prevailed as a petitioning candidate in the general election, but he did not seek re-election in 2012. Lamont lost a gubernatorial primary to Dannel P. Malloy in 2010.
Bysiewicz, a former secretary of the state who has been raising money through an exploratory committee for a potential run for state Senate, could not be reached for comment Tuesday night about whether the presence of her husband, David H. Donaldson, and other supporters on the Middletown challenge slate was related to her ambitions.
Her intentions most likely will become clear Wednesday, when campaign finance reports for the last three months of 2017 must be filed with the State Elections Enforcement Commission. Political sources say the report will show Bysiewicz raising far more money than necessary for a state Senate campaign.
(Update: Bysiewicz confirmed Wednesday she is seriously considering getting into the race for governor. She has raised $105,000 in the past two months for a total of $146,000 from 130 communities, indicating a statewide focus.)
Whatever her role, the defeat at a Democratic caucus of a town committee slate that included Drew and key political allies was a setback to the mayor. Town committees control the selection of delegates to nominating conventions for local, legislative and statewide office.
Asked if it was an embarrassment, Drew replied, “It wasn’t fun, but it’s part of the process.”
Drew said there were several factors in the loss, but the presence of two potential gubernatorial candidates in the same community clearly played a role.
“When you have two candidates coming from one community, you sometimes get these things,” Drew said. “There are a lot of people that wanted it, and this is the process.”
Rob Blanchard, a city council member on the victorious slate, said there were several drivers for the challenge, including a new generation of activists like Action Together CT who joined in response to the election of President Trump.
“When I was town chair, you prepare for these things. I think they were a bit caught off guard. They didn’t have the numbers,” Blanchard said of the incumbents. “This was an effort energized and inspired by a group of people who wanted to see change in their local party apparatus.”
Drew said his slate also had Action Together CT members.
Asked about the challenge slate’s connections to Bysiewicz, Blanchard said, “Every one of the 70 people on the slate had very different motivating factors for why they did this.”
Blanchard works for McDowell Jewett, a political and public-relations firm. One of its principals, Steve Jewett, counts two of Bysiewicz’s former political opponents, Attorney General George Jepsen and U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy, among his clients.
Jepsen and Byswiewicz were competing for attorney general in 2010 when the Supreme Court ruled that she did not meet the statutory requirements for the office. Two years later, she lost a bitter primary to Murphy for the Democratic nomination to succeed Lieberman in the U.S. Senate.
Middletown has other political intrigues in 2018. It is split between two state Senate districts that are likely to be battlegrounds.
One is the 13th District, now represented by Republican Len Suzio of Meriden. Bysiewicz was considered the Democrats’ best hope to regain the seat and potential control of a Senate now evenly divided. The other is the 9th District, now represented by Democrat Paul Doyle of Wethersfield. He is exploring a run for attorney general.
Rep. Matt Lesser, D-Middletown, is expected to run for the Senate seat. He backed the losing slate Tuesday night, but the winners placed him on their slate, as well.