Republican Bob Stefanowski’s campaign for governor of Connecticut followed the same path that led other millionaire candidates like Linda McMahon and Tom Foley to flop on election day. Even though he garnered more votes than Foley, he lost the election because he could not overcome large Democrat majorities in cities like Bridgeport, Hartford, and New Haven in this year of record turnout.
Stefanowski’s campaign ignored the urban vote in the hope of overcoming it with majorities in suburban and rural areas. However, his proposal to eliminate or phase out the state income tax did not help him win many votes among suburbanites who believed that it was either impractical, or that it would only add to already high property taxes. Obviously, phasing out the income tax did not gain many votes in the inner cities whose residents, including college students, are largely exempt.
Stefanowski could not even carry suburban Fairfield, a town of 75,000 that he lost by a wider margin than the statewide percentage. As a Fairfield resident I was surprised that the Republican candidate did not even bother to campaign here. There were no visits or rallies and few lawn signs. There was no constant stream of mailing pieces. It appeared as if he had just written off not just Fairfield but all of prosperous Fairfield County.
In a recent op-ed in the Connecticut Post, Tim Herbst, a Trumbull politician who was defeated by Stefanowski in the Republican primary, faulted Stefanowski and the Republicans for failing to muster a ground game to match the Democrat record-setting numbers.
There was truth in Herbst’s assessment, but no one was more responsible for the Republican defeat than Herbst himself. His refusal to accept the convention’s nominee, and his decision to enter the primary did much to allow an inexperienced, wealthy outsider like Stefanowski to win the primary with only a small percentage of the vote.
If Herbst had thrown his support to Danbury mayor Mark Boughton, the convention’s nominee, Boughton would likely have defeated Stefanowski in the primary. Even though Stefanowski garnered a record number of votes in the election, I believe that Boughton would have done better. He was an experienced Connecticut politician who would have gained more support from Republican leaders who still play a pivotal role in getting out the vote. He would probably have kept Danbury from favoring Lamont, and the full and active support of Herbst would certainly have helped in the Fairfield County suburbs.
Stefanowski is a millionaire businessman, and he couldn’t help looking like a millionaire businessman even if he insisted on calling himself Bob. His desire to bring sound business practices to state government fell largely on deaf ears, especially since he failed to demonstrate how such reforms would benefit the average citizen.
No matter how sound your ideas may be, you must win the election to have any chance of implementing them. What’s the good of having good ideas if you never get a chance to implement. Stefanowski’s Democrat opponent, the far-wealthier Ned Lamont from Greenwich, the wealthiest town in the state, does not look like a businessman. His strategy was to appeal to the Democrat base made up of public service unions, depressed cities, and suburban women upset about the supposed threat to women’s rights posed by the likes of Trump and Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh.
It’s true that Stefanowski supported Trump but he had none of the President’s charisma, moxie, and name recognition, essential equalities for a political outsider to win without the support of party regulars. Democrat Lamont was equally uninspiring, but he had a united party behind him.
Francis P. DeStefano, Ph.D., of Fairfield, is a writer, lecturer, historian and retired financial planner.