This article was written for CT Mirror's Election 2022 briefing. Sign up to receive this weekly email update every Monday between now and Election Day.
Early-season Democratic jitters in Connecticut about an unmotivated base, a Republican head start on TV advertising, and the burdens of inflation and an unpopular Democratic president have eased, though not disappeared, in the final two months of the 2022 campaign.
The shattering of Roe v. Wade by a Supreme Court shaped in large measure by the persistence of the U.S. Senate Republican leader, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, have wakened the Democratic base, as has the prospect of Donald J. Trump running again in 2024.
Democrats and Republicans are campaigning in parallel worlds here.
Trump and his continuing insistence that Joe Biden was fraudulently elected simply don’t exist at GOP campaign events in Connecticut, save for occasional unscripted moments and gestures, such as two women wearing MAGA hats and a man with a Don’t-Blame-Me-I-Voted-For-Trump T-shirt at an intimate indoor rally last week.
Abortion goes unmentioned, as does gun safety and the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol by Trump supporters while Congress was trying to certify Biden’s election.
The rally was headlined by Ronna McDaniel, the Republican national chairwoman who oversaw the RNC’s censure last February of Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger, the congressional Republicans on the committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack and the former president’s role in fomenting it.
McDaniel’s uncle, U.S. Sen. Mitt Romney, denounced the resolution and its reference to the committee persecuting people interested in “legitimate political discourse.” Two of Connecticut’s three members of the Republican National Committee, Ben Proto and John Frey, voted against it.
The sole supporter was Leora Levy, an RNC member and Trump supporter who won last month’s Republican primary for U.S. Senate.
Proto, Frey and Levy joined McDaniel at the rally last week in New Britain, offering a smiling and unified face on a party with significant divisions. Not in attendance were the city’s moderate Republican mayor, Erin Stewart, nor the Republican nominee for governor, Bob Stefanowski.
The timing was inauspicious.
McDaniel arrived as the first polling snapshots since May offered encouragement for top-of-ticket Democrats, Gov. Ned Lamont and U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal. The two deep-pocketed candidates began the final two months of the campaign with polling leads of 10 points and 13 points, respectively.
Stefanowski’s head start on TV advertising, once viewed with alarm by Democrats, no longer seems to be a big deal. Levy, despite a reputation as a formidable fundraiser for the party, has yet to draw national donors to her campaign.
Abortion, guns and Trump are staples of Democratic messaging that has been blessed with help from unlikely quarters. A Republican proposal in the Senate for a national ban on abortion and a national conservative gun group’s legal challenge of Connecticut’s Sandy Hook law each provided opportunities for Democratic outrage.
Republicans gripe that Democrats are happy about any distraction from the economy.
Inflation remains worrisome to every incumbent. Prices rose 8.3% from August 2021 to August 2022, down from 9.1% for the 12-month period ending in June — but still higher than some economists expected. The monthly update released last week was enough to send the markets into a tizzy.
And the Lamont campaign made an unforced error, wrongly asserting in an ad that Lamont had not raised taxes. He did in his first year when he faced a deficit, though he has since presided over surpluses and a major tax cut. But the gaffe gave Stefanowski an opportunity to call Lamont a liar.
The same Emerson College Polling survey that showed Lamont and Blumenthal with solid leads also revealed that the economy — read that as inflation, folks — is the most influential issue in shaping the votes of 40% of likely voters in Connecticut.
But Lamont’s solid lead and Stefanowski’s shifting messaging from inflation to social issues, such as opposition to transgender athletes competing in girls sports, and the retooling of his campaign staff, point amount to a tacit admission he needs far more than inflation to unseat a sitting governor.
It’s been seven decades since a governor seeking reelection in Connecticut has been denied a second term.