Former Connecticut Governors Lowell P. Weicker, M. Jodi Rell, center, and Dannel P. Malloy sit together during the inauguration of Gov. Ned Lamont, Wednesday, Jan. 9, 2019, inside the William A. O'Neill Armory in Hartford Conn. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill, Pool)

Gov. Ned Lamont and his Republican challenger, Bob Stefanowski, are in rare agreement on something. Each downplays two recent polls, albeit for decidedly different reasons.

Stefanowski doesn’t want his voters and donors to give up. 

Lamont doesn’t want his voters (he only has one donor of note, an exceedingly generous fellow named Ned) to get complacent.

Such is the state of play in the race for governor of Connecticut, a state where Democrats hold every statewide and congressional office, where Democrats vastly outnumber Republicans, and the polls favor Lamont.

And yet, more often than not over the past three decades, gubernatorial races are won in Connecticut by just a few points, often with less than 50% of the total vote.

On the air, Lamont’s saturation advertising campaign is directed at persuading the dwindling number of undecided voters. On the ground, the focus is on getting out the vote that every poll says is there for the governor.

There’s been a shift in Lamont’s campaign schedule. His weekends are geared to addressing Democrats, joining others on the ticket in giving the same pep talk over and over, especially in the cities that go big for Democrats.

A week ago in Bridgeport, Congressman Jim Himes told activists at the local Lamont headquarters to stay focused through Nov. 8, warning against complacency that might come with two recent polls, each giving Lamont double-digit leads and solid job approval ratings.

“Some of us may feel reasonably comfortable about where we stand,” Himes said. “But make no mistake, the moment you take your eye off the ball, the moment you don’t do the work, and the moment you don’t volunteer is when we get surprised. And not a single person here or in the city of Bridgeport can afford that.”

Lamont concurred.

“I need you desperately,” he said. “We need everybody to turn out.”

Behind favorable Democratic fundamentals are reasons for caution: After Gov. Bill O’Neill’s comfortable reelection in 1986, Democrats went 0-5 in gubernatorial elections.

Four of the five governors who followed O’Neill were elected to an initial term with less than 50% of the vote in multi-candidate races, none with a winning margin of more than 3.5 percentage points.

Here is the roster, not a landslide winner among them.

  • Lowell P. Weicker Jr. in 1990, a third-party candidate with 40.4% of the vote and a winning margin of 2.9 points.
  • John G. Rowland in 1994, a Republican with 36.2% of the vote and a winning margin of 3.5 points. (He was comfortably reelected twice.)
  • Dannel P. Malloy in 2010, a Democrat with 49.5% of the vote and a winning margin of 0.5 points. His plurality was 6,404 votes.  (He was reelected with 50.7%.)
  • Lamont won with 49.4% of the vote, beating Stefanowski by 3.2 points.

The exception was M. Jodi Rell, the lieutenant governor who bounced into office on a wave of relief after Rowland resigned facing impeachment and the federal corruption conviction that would send him to prison.

Connecticut gave Rell a full four-year term in 2006, electing her with 63.2% of the vote and a plurality of more than 300,000 votes. There was little fretting about turnout or polls that year.

Mark is the Capitol Bureau Chief and a co-founder of CT Mirror. He is a frequent contributor to WNPR, a former state politics writer for The Hartford Courant and Journal Inquirer, and contributor for The New York Times.