As Connecticut Republican Party Chairman Ben Proto sees it, the recipe for success in this fall’s statewide elections is sitting right in front of the party’s candidates and voters looking for an alternative to the political menu long dominated by Democrats.
Start with a heavy helping of buyer’s remorse over a historically unpopular Democratic President, Joe Biden, toss in economic inflation and pandemic fatigue and top it off with layers of frustration about parental choice, taxes and crime, Proto says, and voters just may have an appetite for a whole new plate of office holders.
“The act of voting is more emotional than intellectual and right now you’ve got a very angry electorate and a very scared electorate,” Proto said in an interview Tuesday. “Joe Biden is the gift that keeps on giving for Republicans and in Connecticut, there’s only one place to point the finger and it’s at Ned Lamont and the Democrats.”
Those themes will likely dominate the campaign between Lamont and presumptive Republican nominee for governor Bob Stefanowski, Proto said, and the party’s nominating convention in less than two weeks.
“We can choose to change the people making the decisions or we can continue to embody the definition of insanity,” he said. “I think that puts Republicans in a great position, not only in Connecticut, but across the country.”
Asked how that view squares with a recent Sacred Heart University poll that had Stefanowski trailing Lamont by 47-29 percent among state residents, Proto said he doubts that the all-digital survey of 1,000 voters truly captured the status of the race at this early juncture.
“I think it’s easier to manipulate a digital survey as opposed to getting people on the phone because when we read things as opposed to having things said to us, we interpret them differently,” he said. “So, I’m not discounting 100-percent of what it says, but I know I’ve also seen polls that were conducted in the more traditional method of calling people, and the numbers are very different.”
Democratic party officials have stressed that Lamont’s handling of the COVID pandemic – mainly under an extended period of executive-order authority granted by the General Assembly – is an example of his leadership that will be highlighted in his campaign.
But Proto said many residents, and especially parents of school-age children, grew exasperated at the array of restrictions and mandates imposed by Lamont.
“We tanked the economy. We put any number of small businesses out of work,” Proto said. “You couldn’t go to church or school, but you could go to the grocery store. We were one of the last states to remove a lot of the mandates and to take masks off children. Our nursing home deaths rival those of New York. We saw, unfortunately, way too many people lose their lives because of some really bad decisions. So I think there’s a lot of issues out there to talk about.”
He said the state’s fiscal performance under Lamont was boosted by an infusion of billions of dollars in federal pandemic-relief money, but that voters are looking for leadership and a long-term plan for the state that the governor has not provided.
“The governor’s a nice man, a pleasant man, and I think he’s going to basically try to be like Mr. Rogers wanting to be your neighbor,” Proto said. “But there’s no real vision coming out of the governor’s office or the Democratic caucuses for where Connecticut’s going to be in ten, fifteen or twenty years, and I think people are looking for that vision. Bob’s going to talk about what he’s going to do and where he’s going to take us.”
Proto also sees room for rare Republican victories in the races for the state’s constitutional officer posts, including Attorney General, Treasurer, Secretary of the State and Comptroller, as well as in the U.S Congressional delegation.
“We’ve got a really good diverse group of people who are experienced and endlessly talented and ready to step up,” he said. “I think we have a really good opportunity in a number of those constitutional seats and I think we have a really good opportunity to win one if not more congressional seats.”
After losing to Lamont by a relatively close margin of 44,000 votes in 2018, Proto said Stefanowski has become a much better candidate as his comfort has grown with the demands and dynamics of running for office.
Potential voters also seem more familiar with Stefanowski this time around, he said, as evidenced by the reception he and Lt. Governor candidate Laura Devlin received at an event held last weekend at the West Indian Social Club of Hartford, long an icon of the city’s Black culture.
“People were walking up to him saying ‘“I just want you to know I’m with you – things have to change.’” said Proto, who was in attendance.
He said the event demonstrated that the cities may be moving away from being a traditional election lock for Democrats.
“That tells me that suddenly folks who have always been somewhat taken for granted by the Democrats for their vote were saying no, we’re not doing this anymore,” Proto said. ”I think we’re seeing a shift in attitude and you’re going to see lower Democratic turnout than you’ve seen in the past. And I think Republicans and the unaffiliated are tremendously more motivated and enthusiastic and that’s all going to play out in November.”