Francis DeStefano authored an opinion piece for CTViewpoints recently entitled “Boughton, not Stefanowski, could have won the governorship for Republicans.” He stated that former Trumbull First Selectman Tim Herbst, jilted at the Republican convention in May, refused to accept Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton as its nominee, ran a primary against him, and so played a role in allowing Bob Stefanowski to push aside Boughton, who earned “only a small percentage of the vote.”
Herbst, in an earlier op-ed in the CT Post, had instead faulted the Republicans’ weak ground game for their loss in November.
Contrary to DeStefano’s wishful thinking and Herbst’s easy, but incomplete assessment, two other points call attention to the fact that the Republican loss was due not to what party faithful or their candidate did during the campaign — though their missteps were contributory — but to what they had neglected to do since the last election.
The previous three Republican gubernatorial candidates have been wealthy men who funded their own campaigns, and so relied on their party only at the margin. Stefanowski, after not voting for some 16 years, registering as a Democrat in 2016, then changing his enrollment only in late summer of 2017, began early in 2018 funding TV ads with his own money to gain visibility as a Republican candidate for governor.
He blew off the party’s convention in May and continued his self-funded campaign while Herbst and Boughton awaited public funding.
Stefanowski won the August primary by a narrow margin, then stepped up his self-funded TV-focused campaign for the general election. He almost never published a daily schedule, rarely held public meetings, had little to do with Republican town committees, and, as DeStefano notes, he did not even campaign in Fairfield — and perhaps the same in other vote-rich communities.
Second, immediately before the general election, Republicans accounted for 21 percent of Connecticut’s registered voters, Democrats 38 percent, and unaffiliated and other parties, 41 percent.
To Stefanowski’s credit, he strongly outperformed his party’s registration, receiving votes from 133 percent of registered Republicans. Stated another way, if Republicans voted in the same percentage as the state as a whole — 65 percent of all registered voters — some one-half of his votes were cast by “not-Republicans.”
Meanwhile, Lamont garnered the equivalent of 80 percent of his party’s registration — and applying the 65 percent formula, he drew one-third of his votes from “not-Democrats.”
So getting beneath both Herbst’s and DeStefano’s comments, one must ask how much of Stefanowski’s total reflected a one time unaffiliated and Democratic crossover anti-Malloy vote, and how did the balance of the pro-Trump and Never Trumper vote play out?
Likewise Lamont. Did anti-Malloy Democrats and unaffiliateds just stay home? Did Never Trumpers turn out for Lamont?
All that said, this commentator believes that Stefanowski benefitted from a singular set of circumstances, and that a Republican party whose registration is but one in five voters ought to act strategically and craft a message to resonate with a larger audience before it concerns itself with such tactical issues as who among their field was the stronger candidate, and whether its ground game was well designed and well executed.
Roy Fuchs lives in Trumbull and is a member of the town’s Democratic Town Committee.