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Original reporting by Mark Pazniokas and Lisa Hagen. Compiled by Gabby DeBenedictis.
Themis Klarides is the GOP-endorsed candidate to represent Connecticut in the U.S. Senate. She is a social moderate and is the only 2022 Republican senate candidate who has won elections and held public office.
What is Themis Klarides’ background?
Klarides represented Derby in the Connecticut House of Representatives from 1999-2021, serving as House minority leader from 2015-2021.
She is a native of Seymour and graduated from Trinity College before earning a Juris Doctor from Quinnipiac University School of Law. Currently, she practices law in Connecticut and in the U.S. District Court for Connecticut.
With 56.8% of the vote, Klarides easily won a first-ballot endorsement at the convention in May.
Where does she stand on major issues?
Klarides is a fiscal and law-and-order conservative, endorsed by the Connecticut State Police Union. But she voted for the post-Sandy Hook gun controls and the codification of gay marriage in state law, and she is a defender of abortion rights.
“I am pro-choice, and I’ve been pro-choice my [entire] career,” said Klarides, who represented a swing district in the Naugatuck Valley for 22 years. “And I support LGBTQ rights, because I believe everybody should be treated equally.”
In 2013, Klarides was among 20 state House Republicans who voted with the Democratic majority after the Sandy Hook school shooting for one of the nation’s most comprehensive gun laws. It enhanced background checks for the purchase of firearms and ammunition and banned the sale of certain military-style rifles and large-capacity magazines.
Klarides called the gun vote difficult but defended Republicans for participating in its crafting over the objections of some gun owners, saying the result was a better law.
She has publicly acknowledged she did not vote for Trump in 2020. Instead, she said, she cast a protest write-in vote.
What is her pitch to voters?
Klarides’ pitch is twofold: One, she is the only candidate in the field who has won elections, held office and confronted Democrats in floor debates and other venues. Two, with an approval rating barely above water, 76-year-old Sen. Richard Blumenthal might be vulnerable to the right opponent.
“I say it every day: Do you believe that Dick Blumenthal has lost his fastball and is not representing the people of Connecticut?” Klarides said. “If you believe that’s the case, you should want the person who has the best chance to beat him.”
Klarides describes herself as the “arch nemesis” of Gov. Ned Lamont and his predecessor, Dannel P. Malloy, both Democrats. She promises to do the same with Blumenthal.
“I’m going to be this guy’s worst nightmare, because I’m not going to back down,” Klarides said. “And I’m not just telling you I’m not. I’ve actually proved it.”
What is her campaign style?
Klarides has waged a subdued campaign, unusual for a politician who often has reveled in blunt gestures intended to discomfit opponents.
Like other Republicans in Connecticut and around the country, she is seeking to use rising inflation as a wedge issue against Democrats and nationalize the issue by referencing President Joe Biden.
In a newly released ad, she has already started to pivot to the general election fight against potential rival Blumenthal, who’s running for a third term in November.
“I grew up in a grocery store, so I understand when groceries cost more. Working families are hit hardest,” Klarides says in the 30-second spot. “Yet Joe Biden and Dick Blumenthal want to spend billions more, feeding the inflation crisis. I don’t back down if people are putting pressure on me if I believe it’s best for the people of Connecticut.”
What have her GOP opponents said about her?
Senate candidate Leora Levy attacked Klarides in messages to supporters and a TV commercial that, together, drew gasps for their content, tone and timing.
One missive claimed Klarides, who was largely the face and voice of the GOP during six years as the House minority leader, really was a Democrat in disguise.
And one of Levy’s ads faults Klarides for acknowledging systemic racism in condolences on Twitter to African-Americans after the police killing of George Floyd two years ago, and it falsely accused her of helping Democrats “cheat with mail-in ballots.”
“After 22 years in office, Themis Klarides isn’t one of us,” the ad asserted.
At the senate GOP primary debate, held on July 26, Levy turned on Klarides with a reference to her husband, a senior executive at Eversource.
“While I’m not going to talk about it, I don’t blame you for rate hikes at Eversource,” Levy said.
Klarides ignored the gibe.
The Connecticut Mirror/Connecticut Public Radio federal policy reporter position is made possible, in part, by funding from the Robert and Margaret Patricelli Family Foundation and Engage CT.