House Minority Leader Themis Klarides file photo /
House Minority Leader Themis Klarides file photo /

House Minority Leader Themis Klarides, R-Derby, ended months of speculation about her political ambitions Wednesday, telling her caucus she would forgo a run for governor in 2018 and focus on trying to win a GOP majority in the House.

“As you know, this has been a tortuous decision,” said Klarides, who leads a caucus that has grown over four two-year election cycles from 37 to 72, just four shy of a majority. “We’ve made great strides.”

Her status was one of the last unknowns about the sprawling field of contenders for the GOP nomination, an all-male group of declared candidates and two women with exploratory committees, New Britain Mayor Erin Stewart and state Sen. Toni Boucher.

At a recent candidate forum sponsored by the state Republican Party, 11  candidates were invited and nine attended, including Boucher. But the party is expected to limit its next forum to on Feb. 21 to only declared candidates who have raised at least $125,000.

Klarides, 52, is the first woman to lead the GOP House caucus. If Republicans pick up four seats, she would be in line to become just the second woman to lead the House as its speaker after Democrat Moira Lyons.

Senate GOP leader Len Fasano of North Haven ruled out a gubernatorial run last summer. The Republicans hold half the seats in the Senate, where only the tie-breaking ability of the presiding officer, Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman, give Democrats nominal control of that chamber.

Klarides told Republicans of her decision in a caucus prior to the 131-4 vote by the House to override the veto of Gov. Dannel P. Malloy of  bill that restores funding to a Medicare assistance program.

People close to Klarides had discounted chances she would open a campaign less than four months away from the nominating convention in May, but speculation persisted. Her decision comes a day after one news outlet reported she was hinting at a run.

“I think it will take a certain kind of candidate to win a general election in Connecticut and I’m still looking for that candidate,” Klarides told Hearst Connecticut Media. “I think a lot of people are. I think that’s why it’s almost February and the field is so open.”

The declared Republican candidates at the last GOP forum were Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton, businessman Steve Obsitnik, former U.S. Comptroller General Dave Walker, immigration lawyer Peter Lumaj, state Rep. Prasad Srinivasan, Shelton Mayor Mark Lauretti, former Trumbull First Selectman Tim Herbst, and Mike Handler, a top city finance official in Stamford. Two businessmen, David Stemerman and Bob Stefanowski, have candidate committees, but they have snubbed the party’s first two forums.

The field of Democratic contenders to succeed Malloy, who is not seeking re-election to a third term, is evolving.

The first Democrat in the race, Middletown Mayor Dan Drew, recently quit, struggling to raise money and facing the prospect of new competition from Ned Lamont and two others now raising money with exploratory campaigns, former Secretary of the State Susan Bysiewicz and Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin.

Lamont is now a declared candidate, as are Bridgeport Mayor Joseph P. Ganim, former Veterans Affairs Commissioner Sean Connolly and former corporate communications executive Guy L. Smith IV. Former state Sen. Jonathan Harris and a former Wall Street executive, Dita Bhargava, have exploratory campaigns.

Mark is the Capitol Bureau Chief and a co-founder of CT Mirror. He is a frequent contributor to WNPR, a former state politics writer for The Hartford Courant and Journal Inquirer, and contributor for The New York Times.

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