GREENWICH – The local Republican Town Committee has not yet posted the results of Tuesday night’s caucus but Michael Hahn, a former vice-chair of the State Republican Party and newcomer to District 5, is crying foul over an “official ballot” that left off the names of some candidates for the 66 open seats on the committee.
Hahn is one of a number of Greenwich Republicans calling for a new approach to local Republican politics that he says will win back seats in the state legislature and local Republican voters.
“You have to be extremely strategic with your resources, and your messaging needs to speak to a general populace – not less than 33 percent,” Hahn told CT Examiner on a Wednesday call.
But RTC Vice-Chair Joe Montanaro, who plans to run again for a leadership seat in March, isn’t backing down from the current approach. Montanaro has managed communications for the committee for the last year, and he tells CT Examiner that the results of the 2023 local elections speak for themselves.
In November, local Republican races were one of the few bright spots across the state, with incumbent First Selectman Fred Camillo winning almost 60 percent of the vote, Republicans winning races for town clerk and tax collector, and taking the majority of the votes for Board of Selectmen, Finance and School Board.
“The idea that our messaging didn’t work is a total misnomer. The idea that we need to take a softer approach to our messaging is a misnomer,” Montanaro said on a Wednesday call. “I’m sure a lot of Republicans may not be as vocal or not happy about our newly-found voice for the last 12 months, but it is effective.”
A moderate faction of the local party lost out to the current leadership in 2022, promising a “red wave” in the fall that never materialized, with Republican Ryan Fazio holding his State Senate seat, and Democrats winning all three of Greenwich’s house seats.
Republican voter registration in town has also dropped by about 9.5 percent since March 2020 – from 12,322 voters to 11,156 in Dec. 2023 – while Democratic registration slightly increased by about 1.3 percent – from 11,015 voters to 11,787.
Unaffiliated voters currently account for 39.3 percent of Greenwich voters, Democrats for 30.2 percent and Republicans for 28.8 percent.
But while some Republicans, including Hahn, called for a change of tactics ahead of Tuesday’s caucus, Montanaro urged local Republicans not to give in to “wokism and liberalism.”
Members later reported a “massive” voter turnout across the 12 districts despite heavy rain. Candidates who spoke with CT Examiner on Wednesday attributed the high turnout to the disagreement over strategy.
Hahn, who campaigned door-to-door for Camillo’s 2023 campaign, said the committee should leave aside national issues and instead work on a strategy that gets Republicans elected at the state level.
“I would like them involved. I think they have extraordinary passion,” Hahn said of current leadership. “But once they got into office, they lost their footing a little bit. They started concentrating on more national social issues as opposed to local issues.”
Montanaro told CT Examiner that while some may believe the current strategy is extremist, he expects that the majority of candidates elected on Tuesday will agree with his own “moderate” approach.
If elected again to the executive board, Montanaro said he will continue his efforts, as he believes they inspired voter turnout both on Tuesday and in the 2023 election.
“This is a segment who believes – and I’m not one of them – that you have to bend the knee to some wokeism and liberalism in order to get elected in Connecticut, and I don’t believe that’s the case,” he said. “I think we can win the unaffiliated over by standing true to our principles and our beliefs and our policies.”
Montanaro also denounced a Wednesday letter by Hahn claiming there was an issue with the caucus ballots.
In his letter, Hahn claimed that Mila Spilo, a RTC candidate in District 11, had printed and handed out what was labeled an “official ballot,” to voters across town before the nomination process began, that included only a partial list of candidates.
In a call to CT Examiner, Hahn said the “ballot” created confusion because candidates must first be nominated by the chair to secure their spot on the ballot. In the case of the pre-printed District 5 ballot, Hahn said his name was not included.
“These were distributed townwide in the districts,” Hahn said. “I immediately objected.”
Hahn told CT Examiner initially that despite his objection many voters used the ballot without his name to cast their vote, a claim that he later walked back. But Montanaro confirmed that pre-printed ballots were used in other districts.
Montanaro, meanwhile, maintains that the ballots are valid. He explained to CT Examiner that any incumbent members who wanted to run again and any newcomer candidates had the opportunity to reach out to the RTC chair prior to the caucus to secure a spot on the pre-printed ballots. And anyone who then asked to be nominated on the day of the caucus, he told CT Examiner, could be included in the write-in section of the ballot.
Montanaro said Hahn was one of the candidates who did not contact the RTC about his intention to run until Tuesday.
“We sent newsletters to 14,000 Republicans in town, we sent it out on social media, we sent it out through various publications. Everybody knew the caucuses were going on,” Montanaro said. “That’s why hundreds of people turned out last night in a downpour.”
This story has been updated to include follow-up conversations with Montanaro and Hahn, walking back claims that Hahn himself was left off of ballots used in the caucus, but confirming that such pre-printed ballots were used in other districts