BEACON FALLS — Republican First Selectman Gerry Smith announced this week his plan to challenge Chris Murphy for his U.S. Senate seat, saying the two-term senator has done “less than a stellar job” for Connecticut residents and focuses too much on international issues.
And if voters put party labels aside, Smith said he believes he can win the race.
“I’ve always worked well with both Democrats and Republicans, and I don’t understand why so many people vote for the party and not the person. Look beyond the labels and look at the person and what they’ve done and what they say they are going to do,” said Smith, who is serving his fourth two-year term as first selectman of Beacon Falls, a town of 6,000 people in western New Haven County.
The Tarrytown, New York, native said his top priorities would be the economy, crime, affordable housing and jobs.
Smith said he first contemplated running for Murphy’s seat last summer, and that it wouldn’t be democratic for the senator to run unopposed. The state’s last Republican senator was the late Lowell Weicker, who left the Senate in 1989.
“I was waiting to hear who was going to step up and run, but when all indications were that Sen. Murphy was going to run unopposed, I said that we shouldn’t let that happen,” said Smith, who is also a licensed insurance broker. “Democracy states that we need to have choices in our leadership, and I think I can relate to people better. I’ve done everything from doing commercial real estate to owning my own trucking company to being an insurance broker and first selectman.”
Smith shared his stances on a range of topics, spanning from abortion and the death penalty to the Middle East and the war in Ukraine. He told CT Examiner that he believes his varied work background equips him with the knowledge and experience essential for being a great U.S. senator.
Smith said getting people jobs and securing more police funding across the state must be top priorities for anyone wishing to serve as Connecticut senator. He also said he’s a big believer in the trades.
“We have a lot of trade schools here [in Connecticut], and that’s a way to get skilled workers and to get people to work in the industries,” he said.
As the head of a small municipality, Smith said he sees the efforts of local police firsthand, and believes those in power should allocate additional funding to hire more officers and provide them with the necessary tools and resources.
“I work very closely with my police department and I think we need to pay for funding for more police. We need to untie their hands,” he said. “When we let people out on cashless bail, many times the officers are scared to do their jobs. We don’t have enough police and it’s tough to get the funding to keep the police on the road.”
Smith said Beacon Falls, albeit a very small town, has seen its fair share of “speeding to running red lights to people driving cars and driving very fast.” It’s even more serious in the state’s urban centers, he added, “where we have violent crimes that are going unpunished.”
Smith said he plans to visit as many communities in the state as possible, with a focus on larger cities.
“I am going to focus on the cities, the larger cities, because I think I can resonate with those folks because I can closely align with their challenges,” he said.
While Murphy made walking across Connecticut a cornerstone of his two campaigns, Smith said he’s committed to attending as many functions and events in the state as possible.
“I do need to get across the state to municipal events, see different people and use social media, and hopefully get on TV as much as we can, and try to get on for positive reasons, and to support causes that will promote our agenda,” he said.
Smith on Murphy
Smith said Murphy, a member of the Committee on Foreign Relations, focuses too much attention on international issues and not enough on issues in his home state.
“Look at his trip to Iran a few years ago,” he said, referring to Murphy’s 2020 meeting with Iran’s foreign minister to discuss U.S. nationals being detained there, among other issues. “I just think he’s got aspirations that don’t best reflect the interests of the state of Connecticut.”
Smith pointed comments made by Murphy during a recent appearance on MSNBC’s “All In with Chris Hayes” as evidence that the incumbent senator is out of touch with his constituents.
In an unedited conversation with Hayes, Murphy said that the Democrats’ strategy for the past several decades has “failed to deliver for the people we care about most, the undocumented Americans that are in this country.”
Asked for comment or explanation of the seeming gaffe, the Murphy campaign said in a statement simply that “Senator Murphy is staying focused on listening to people in the state, bringing Republicans and Democrats together in D.C., and doing the job the best he can. He welcomes more Republicans to the race.”
Smith acknowledged that he likely won’t raise as much money as Murphy, but said “Money will not win this election.”
Smith also said he would not throw his support behind either former President Donald Trump or his Republican primary opponent, former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, in the primary, but would support his party’s eventual nominee.
So far, Smith said he has raised about $1,000 toward a goal of raising $1 million. According to the Federal Election Commission, as of Dec. 31, Murphy had raised $10.4 million and had $8.2 million on hand.
Smith on Smith
Smith said he’s firmly anti-abortion but supports the death penalty.
“I do believe that life begins at conception,” the candidate said. “I think that anybody who has an abortion should have to listen to that heartbeat prior to making that decision.”
He said the death penalty should be used very sparingly and with extreme caution, and only “if you are guilty beyond a shadow of a doubt.”
On guns and gun control, Smith expressed support for the Second Amendment.
“I have a carry permit and I own a gun. I think it’s our constitutional right. I think if you want to control gun violence in the state of Connecticut and in the nation, there should be mandatory long stiff jail terms for someone who gets caught committing a crime with an unlicensed gun or a stolen gun of any kind,” he said.
As far as foreign conflicts, Smith said he supports Israel and believes they “need to defend themselves any way they see fit.”
But Smith said he wasn’t in favor of sending “blank checks and billions of dollars” toward supporting Ukraine as the country fights off a years-long invasion by Russia.
“I think we need to support democracy, yet I find it ironic that we are funding to defend a border that is overseas while our borders are wide open,” he said.