Greenwich businessman Ned Lamont easily captured the Democratic gubernatorial nomination Tuesday, outpolling convicted felon Bridgeport Mayor Joe Ganim in every community except Ganim’s hometown.
Lamont’s win was part of a sweep as all Democrats endorsed for constitutional offices at the state party convention in May survived primary challenges.
Former Secretary of the State Susan Bysiewicz defeated newcomer Eva Bermudez Zimmerman of Newtown for the lieutenant governor’s nomination. Rep. William Tong of Stamford outpolled Sen. Paul Doyle of Wethersfield and former federal prosecutor Chris Mattei of Hartford for the nomination for attorney general. Finally, ex-Hartford City Council President Shawn Wooden defeated former Wall Street trader Dita Bhargava of Greenwich to win the nomination for state treasurer.
Lamont’s victory was called by the Associated Press at 8:30 p.m. Unofficial returns showed Lamont winning at least 80 percent of the vote.
“I can tell you one thing — these are not George and Barbara Bush Connecticut Republicans we are running against,” Lamont told a crowd of hundreds gathered for his victory party at College Street Music Hall in New Haven. “It’s a new breed of Trump Republicans. We’re not going to let them take over our state.”
Standing with his wife, Annie, and their three children, the 64-year-old Lamont declared victory before the five-way Republican gubernatorial primary was resolved. But he said regardless of the winner, he fears they will support a conservative Trump agenda that attacks health care, abortion rights, gun safety laws, collective bargaining rights and the environment.
Lamont pledged to support a $15 per hour minimum wage, pay equity, and investments in vocational-technical schools and community colleges to grow jobs and to bolster Connecticut’s economy.
“How about (nominating) the first governor in generations who actually started a business and actually created jobs,” he said. “That’s what we’re going to do, get the state going again, get the state growing again.”
During his 2006 challenge against U.S. Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman, Lamont won the Democratic nomination on the strength of his opposition to the Iraq war, but lost the general election to Lieberman, who came back to run as a petitioning candidate. Still, Lamont said he hasn’t lost his ability to put principle above politics.
“I can tell you the party elders were not that happy with me,” he said. “And you know what? I don’t care. I stood up for what I thought was right then, I’m going to stand up for what I think is right now — every day as your governor.”
Ganim, 58, conceded his defeat at 9:20 p.m. among throngs of supporters clad in “Ganim for Governor” T-shirts at Testo’s Restaurant—the same place where he celebrated during his mayoral comeback in 2015.
Coming to the podium as loudspeakers blared Survivor’s “Eye of the Tiger,” the Bridgeport mayor praised Lamont and spoke of party unity.
“I said, ‘You know, you’re pretty tough,’” Ganim said, recounting his concession phone call to Lamont, adding that he congratulated him on “a great victory and a hard-fought spirited primary.”
“And now we become part of a larger army, an army of committed individuals, maybe we were fighting against, maybe we were approaching the same challenge from a different perspective—we get on the same page,” Ganim added. “We come together because there’s too much, it’s too important that lies that in the balance.”
“I’m the guy who will bring real change to Hartford,” Lamont said during a mid-afternoon stop at Democratic headquarters in Manchester — one of seven stops at polling places Tuesday as he criss-crossed the state. “I’m the outsider. I’m the first business guy in generations. I’ll be fearless when it comes to taking on the entrenched interests on both sides of the aisle.”
Lamont, a wealthy businessman who funded his own campaign, did his best to ignore the brash Bridgeport mayor — but could not entirely escape the novelty of facing someone who served seven years in prison in a serious race for governor.
Still, his ability to outmatch Ganim was hardly a surprise, both because of Ganim’s record and because of the realities of modern campaign financing.
Yale University grad student Jaymin Patel, 28, who voted at Wilbur Cross High School in New Haven, summed up the thinking of many voters.
“I voted for Lamont. I think the big obvious (reason) is that the competitor is a convicted felon,” Patel said. “I mean if he was corrupt before, there’s nothing indicating that anything’s changed.”
Justin Elicker, 43, echoed that belief.
“Ganim’s history wasn’t just that he made some bad choices. He made many strategically bad choices over years and years,” said Elicker, adding that he doesn’t believe the mayor has “taken full responsibility” for his mistakes.
Ganim was convicted on 16 felony counts in 2003 for his leadership role in a kickback scheme during his first stint as mayor. His campaign drew coverage from The New York Times and New York magazine.
That conviction made Ganim ineligible for public financing. Lamont outspent him by a more than four-to-one margin, $2.6 million to slightly more than $600,000.
While Ganim charged that Lamont failed to meet him in enough debates, and objected when the Greenwich businessman said that he would “probably not” support Ganim should he win the primary, Lamont tried to focus his attention on the five Republicans battling for the GOP gubernatorial nomination. In particular, Lamont singled out the Republicans’ questionable promises to deliver dramatic state tax cuts, or even to phase out the income tax, despite huge deficit projections for post-election state finances.
“Despite the negative tone of the Republican campaign and all of their ads, I think people know we’ve got a fiscal crisis,” Lamont said, adding that voters are not easily fooled. “But they also know we’re going to solve it. It’s an amazing state with great opportunities.”
Lamont’s win quickly drew praise from party leaders, both in Connecticut and nationally — and a quick jab from the GOP.
“Now more than ever, we need leaders who aren’t afraid to stand up, to look voters in the eye, and tell them their plans for the state,” said Democratic State Party Chair Nick Balletto. “Ned Lamont is the only candidate offering realistic solutions to the voters. I have no doubt that Ned Lamont has the vision and the grit to take the party across the finish line in November.
Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, chairman of the Democratic Governors Association, concurred. “Ned has spent his career running small businesses and putting people to work. He has what it takes to move Connecticut forward with a fair economy that supports workers and builds the middle class,” Inslee said. “As governor, Ned will bring those skills to help Connecticut attract good jobs, invest in schools, and protect the environment.”
But the Republican Governors Association quickly responded by echoing a theme GOP candidates in Connecticut already have established — linking Lamont with Gov. Dannel P. Malloy.
The RGA said a Lamont win in November would be tantamount to giving the unpopular Democratic governor a third term.
“After nearly eight years of job losses, fiscal chaos, and economic decline under failed Governor Dan Malloy, Connecticut Democrats have nominated Ned Lamont, an out-of-touch politician who has promised, if elected, to continue Dan Malloy’s failed policies,” said RGA Communications Director Jon Thompson.
Lamont employed a unified strategy in his win over Ganim. All four Democrats who won the state convention endorsement, yet faced primary challenges, cooperated in their campaigns.
They called themselves the “A Team” — a reference to sharing Row A on the primary ballot.
Lamont tapped Susan Bysiewicz, a Middletown Democrat who had been considering a bid for governor, to be his running mate shortly before the state convention in mid-May.
Having won two statewide elections for secretary of the state — as well as a Democratic primary for that nomination — and three contests for state representative, Bysiewicz brought campaign experience to the “A Team.”
“I think there’s been a lot of synergy and energy around Row A,” she said, during a mid-afternoon campaign stop at the Joseph O. Goodwin School in East Hartford. “Ned and I have supported one another since the convention. Shawn Wooden, William Tong and I and Ned have been working together at various events. … I do bring a record of winning.”
Bysiewicz was challenged by Zimmerman, a staffer with the Service Employees International Union, who portrayed her opponent as a career politician.
Shortly after 10 p.m., Bysiewicz declared victory at the College Street Music Hall celebration she shared with Lamont. Though unofficial results from the secretary of the state’s office had Bysiewicz winning with two-thirds of the vote with a little less than half of all precincts reporting, the Middletown Democrat said she had just received a concession phone call from Zimmerman.
“I know that she has an extremely bright future and … I know she will be part of our effort going forward,” Bysiewicz said.
Zimmerman got a late start on her campaign this year, but stunned many Democrats when she captured 40 percent of the delegates at the state convention.
Tuesday night, as she conceded the race in front of supporters in Meriden, Zimmerman said she won’t allow her loss to keep her out of the political arena.
“I’m an organizer. I’ll take a day off and then on Thursday start working my butt off for a Democratic victory,” she said.
But Bysiewicz said there’s “a big difference” between securing votes from 40 percent of about 1,700 convention delegates, and winning a statewide primary.
“Ned and I have been working very hard,” she said. “Our plan has included talking to as many Democratic primary voters as we could.”
Zimmerman, who spent part of Tuesday afternoon greeting voters casting ballots at a New Haven fire station, said she was pleased with how she ran her campaign, which emphasized the need for greater state investment in health care, education, and urban centers.
“Absolutely,” she said, pointing to “the amount of energy, the people who got involved, the voters who have never registered in their lives and now are saying at their 50th birthday, 60th birthday, ‘you know, there’s something about your campaign that’s inspired me I’m going to go out there and vote.’”
Two Democratic incumbents, Secretary of the State Denise W. Merrill of Hartford and state Comptroller Kevin P. Lembo of Guilford, were not challenged in Tuesday’s primary.