Stefanowski gets closer on less-traveled path to GOP primary

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Bob Stefanowski

Bob Stefanowski has campaigned for governor of Connecticut in something of an alternate universe, a place where there was no Republican state convention, no delegates deciding who gets access to the primary ballot. Instead, Stefanowski’s path to the primary brought him, his volunteers and paid staff to the homes of more than 12,000 Republican voters.

Stefanowski, formerly the chief financial officer of UBS Investment Bank and a senior executive at GE, said Monday his campaign has begun to turn in petitions that he says should easily qualify him for the Aug. 14 primary, now a three-way contest with convention-qualified candidates: Mark Boughton, Timothy Herbst and Steve Obsitnik.

Qualifying by petitioning requires the authenticated signatures of two percent of all Republicans, a number the secretary of the state’s office sets at 9,081 this year. With a buffer of about 3,000 extra signatures, the Stefanowski campaign is taking the next step, submitting them to the registrars of voters in every community in which they were collected.

“I’d much rather have 12,000 signatures from Republicans across the state than 150 delegates from a convention,” said Stefanowski, who lives in the shoreline community of Madison. “It gives me broader support.”

Connecticut, a state whose election laws are hostile to political outsiders, has scant experience with candidates petitioning for statewide office: Peter Schiff, a Republican candidate for U.S. Senate, succeeded in getting on the ballot in 2010, only to finish third in a three-way primary with Linda McMahon and former U.S. Rep. Rob Simmons.

No one else has qualified for a statewide primary in either party by petitioning.

Stefanowski, who also declined invitations to five gubernatorial forums staged by the Connecticut Republican Party (one in each congressional district in the five months preceding the GOP state convention), said bypassing the convention to go directly to the broader electorate  was a better use of time and resources.

“We built up a ground force and a team across the state,” he said.

Stefanowski was the first of the candidates to spend on television this year, running ads to raise his name recognition as his volunteers and paid staff began going door to door for signatures. As of March 31, the end of the recent reporting period, Stefanowski’s campaign spent about $200,000 on media, most of it on television.

The door-to-door petitioning had a twofold purpose. Aside from gathering signatures, it was an opportunity to leave voters with material about Stefanowski and collect contact information for a get-out-the-vote data base, said his campaign manager, Patrick Trueman.

Winning the GOP primary could take 30,000 votes or less, so a database of 12,000 voters is a significant campaign asset. 

The campaign advertised widely — talking to about 1,000 people — to build a canvassing force of about 100. Canvassers had to be registered Republicans, a requirement of state law. With incentives, the campaign paid about $25 an hour, collecting about five signatures an hour on average, Trueman said.

“It’s not cheap,” he said. “It fluctuated, based on where you were canvassing.”

Democratic petitioners have an advantage: Many of their voters live in densely settled cities and suburbs, making petitioning more efficient. In some Republican communities, great distances often separated houses. 

The petitioners included the candidate.

“It’s a great way to meet voters,” Trueman said.

Stefanowski questioned whether the convention system had outlived its usefulness.

“I think it’s outdated,” he said. 

J.R. Romano, the Republican state chairman, oversaw the only successful statewide petition drive to date — the one conducted on behalf of Schiff after vote-switching at the convention denied Schiff a place on the ballot. Under state law, winning 15 percent of the delegate vote qualifies a candidate for a primary.

Romano said he is not opposed to petitioning, but he still sees the value of conventions, if only for the public attention they draw.

“I think there is no question there is earned media opportunities when it comes to the convention,” Romano said. “It certainly is an opportunity to galvanize and get attention.”

Stefanowski was one of two candidates, both of whom are largely self-funding their campaigns, to bypass the convention in favor of petitioning. The other is David Stemerman, a former hedge fund manager from Greenwich.

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