Connecticut, like much of the Northeast, has shifted heavily Democratic in the past decades. George H. W. Bush won the state in 1988, but since then, the Democrats have won easily. The last Republican senator was Lowell Weicker who lost his seat to Joe Lieberman in 1988 while the last Republican congressman, Chris Shays, was vanquished by Jim Himes in 2008.
Intramural fights among Republicans often pit moderates versus conservatives, with conservatives arguing that principles triumph over pragmatism. But the fact remains that neither type of candidate has proven to be viable statewide.
Thus, Republicans should try a novel approach and allow primaries to increase the name recognition of potential nominees rather that allowing party insiders to rubber stamp another hopeless cause. This is especially true this year as Joe Biden has an approval rating of 38% in Deep Blue Connecticut. Since congressional races in off-year elections are often referendums on the president’s performance, the Republican nominee has a chance of winning.
Unbeknownst to the average voter, Connecticut is what is called “a convention state.” Most states require candidates gather a small number of signatures to be on the ballot. But not Connecticut. Candidates must waste endless hours of their time speaking to town committees – 169 of them in a statewide race – and then harass delegates who attend a convention to choose the candidate. The winner of this convention (50% + 1 delegates) is the nominee, but any candidate who receives 15% can force a primary.
Two races have excellent candidates who should be allowed to primary each other, the Fourth Congressional District (Fairfield County) held by Democrat Jim Himes and the U.S. Senate race in which the nominee will battle U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal.
In the Fourth District, former Darien First Selectman Jayme Stevenson is a lock to win the convention. Smart and charismatic, she was so popular during her tenure as Darien First Selectman that the Democrats usually didn’t even bother to field a candidate against her. But she has only raised $186,000 to Jim Himes $2,000,000.
Her opponent, Dr. Michael Goldstein is both an ophthalmologist, a lawyer and a sharp cookie. But as a political outsider, he is receiving very little delegate support although he plans to petition his way onto the ballot. But if he is unsuccessful, Stevenson will have tremendous difficulty getting traction or raising money.
A primary, on the other hand, with give the candidates an opportunity to debate each other while receiving at least a million dollars’ worth of free media publicity. Plus, it will give each of them a chance to equate Jim Himes to the unpopular Biden.
A similar situation exists in the U.S. Senate race. Former House minority leader Themis Klarides of Derby is considered the front runner to win the convention; but there are two viable opponents, Leora Levy and Peter Lumaj. Levy and Lumaj both have one factor in common – they are refugees from tyranny. Lumaj gives a fascinating stump speech about how his family escaped from Communist Albania and thrived in this country. Levy’s family escaped Communist Cuba and with nothing but grit and determination, became one of the first successful female commodities trader.
All three candidates have raised enough money to run viable campaigns, but none at this point is close to the over $8 million Blumenthal has in the bank.
The best chance for a Republican win is to let these candidates duke it out. None has significant name recognition compared to their Democratic opponents. Primaries will change this free of charge. The candidates who emerge, even if not successful in the general election, will help down ballot Republicans (e.g., state senators and assembly persons).
Furthermore, it is inherently unfair for candidates to spend endless hours speaking to town committees, raising money and speaking to anyone who puts a microphone in front of the them and then be denied access to the ballot. Let the voters choose the strongest candidate, not the party insiders.
Joseph Bentivegna MD is an ophthalmologist in Rocky Hill.