Republican Bob Stefanowski says no negative inferences should be drawn from his gubernatorial campaign shedding its campaign manager, senior advisor and television consultant over a three-week span in August.
“No, I think we’re perfectly positioned going into post Labor Day,” Stefanowski said in an interview Monday night.
Stefanowski’s new television consultant is Larry Weitzner of Jamestown Associates, who crafted advertising for the presidential campaigns of Donald J. Trump in 2016 and 2020, as well as for a roster of New England governors.
Stefanowski and his senior advisor, Liz Kurantowicz of Fairfield, parted ways Friday, with the campaign and Kurantowicz jointly announcing in a written statement Saturday that her departure was the result of “strategic differences.”
In separate interviews Monday, neither candidate nor consultant cared to articulate those differences. Stefanowski said the three changes were unrelated.
On Aug. 1, former state Rep. Dan Carter left as campaign manager, succeeded by Patrick Sasser, a grassroots leader of opposition to Gov. Ned Lamont’s tolls proposal in 2019. The change was not public until Sasser spoke to The Hartford Courant nine days later.
Sasser is a full-time Stamford firefighter, meaning that the campaign’s new manager will not be a daily physical presence at Stefanowski’s campaign headquarters in Branford, an unusual arrangement.
“I can reach Pat Sasser any time. I don’t think I’ve ever called him and he hasn’t picked up the phone,” Stefanowski said. “So he’s managing it day to day.”
Sasser could not be reached. The campaign has a full-time deputy, George Brehl, who also was a full-time staffer in 2018.
Stefanowski had been relying on two strategic advisors since January: Kurantowicz, a former executive director of the Connecticut Republican Party; and Chris Russell of Checkmate Strategies, a New Jersey firm.
Russell, who could not be reached Monday, was an advisor to the campaign of Jack Ciattarelli, the Republican who lost by 3 percentage points to Gov. Phil Murphy of New Jersey in an unexpectedly close race last year.
Russell remains an advisor to Stefanowski.
“He’s definitely a large part of the strategy,” said Sarah Clark, who recently took a leave of absence from the state Senate Republican office to handle press for Stefanowski.
Clark and Kurantowicz worked together on Tim Herbst’s campaign for state treasurer in 2014. Clark praised Kurantowicz’s work for Stefanowski.
“Liz gave an enormous amount of time and talent and the campaign, and I wish her the best,” Clark said.
Stefanowski has been focusing on pocketbook issues, criticizing the governor for not providing more tax relief from the state’s surplus to offset the impact of inflation.
Democrats counter they have used the surplus to provide immediate relief, such as a child tax credit and a suspension of the excise tax on gasoline, and saved millions by paying down debt.
Stefanowski said the race remains competitive.
The most recent non-partisan public poll was a survey released May 26 by Quinnipiac that showed Lamont leading Stefanowski, 51% to 43%. An Emerson College poll earlier in May had Lamont with an 18-point lead.
Stefanowski said the $2.4 million spent by the Democratic Governors Association in support of the wealthy Lamont shows Democrats view the self-funding governor as vulnerable.
“Otherwise they wouldn’t be doing it,” Stefanowski said. “So we think it’s going to be a real competitive race. We’d like to fine tune the message a little bit after Labor Day, and that’s going to put us over the top.”
Stefanowski also is largely self-funding his campaign with $10 million of his own money. Republican super PACs have spent more than $2.6 million attacking Lamont in support of Stefanowski.
Fine-tuning Stefanowski’s message likely will fall to Russell and Weitzner. Responsibility for his advertising will shift from Chris Mottola of California to Weitzner and Jamestown Associates, Stefanowski’s television consultant in 2018.
“That’s who we used in 2018,” Stefanowski said. “We thought coming after Labor Day, people are now going to be laser-focused on the race, which they weren’t necessarily during the summer. We like the work they did last time. So we decided to make that move.”
While Trump is the highest-profile client of Weitzner and his Jamestown Associates, the Stefanowski campaign was quick to point to his work for Republican governors in blue states, most notably Charlie Baker of Massachusetts.
“No firm has helped elect more Republican governors in the deep blue Northeast than Jamestown,” the firm says on its web site. “In Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and New Jersey, we’ve produced award-winning ad campaigns that have helped flip three governorships from blue to red.”
Weitzner’s roster of current governors also includes Chris Sununu of New Hampshire. Past clients include former Gov. M. Jodi Rell of Connecticut and Chris Christie of New Jersey.
On Tuesday, Stefanowski will be making a play for winning the cross-endorsement of the Independent Party. It would give him a second ballot line, as Lamont will have through his cross-endorsement by the Working Families Party.
Stefanowski and his wife, Amy, will be hosting an invitation-only reception for Independent Party members at their home in Madison. The party will nominate a candidate at 7:30 p.m. at a community center in Guilford.
The party’s state central committee has endorsed Rob Hotaling for the nomination rather than cross-endorse Stefanowski as the party did four years ago. Stefanowski was uncertain Monday night if he would attend the caucus.