State Republicans regroup

After sustaining heavy losses across the state last week, Connecticut Republicans are looking forward to sunnier days.

Once a bastion of fiscally conservative Rockefeller Republicans, Connecticut is now almost entirely blue. Democrats picked up the last remaining Republican congressional seat in the Constitution State on Election Day and took veto-proof majorities in both houses of the Connecticut General Assembly. Although state Republicans are confident they will eventually regain their luster, Connecticut leaders are curious to see how they will recover.

In recent years, Connecticut Republicans have suffered substantial losses across the state. In 2006, they lost two congressional seats and barely held onto a third – that of Rep. Chris Shays. In his unsuccessful 2008 re-election campaign, Shays repeatedly referred to a “tsunami” bearing down on the G.O.P. He blamed this tidal force on the direction his party was moving in, saying the religious conservatives “hijacked” the rest of the Republican Party.

Kenneth Dautrich, associate professor of public policy at the University of Connecticut and a state election expert, said Republicans have already eliminated their biggest hurdle: Pres. George W. Bush ’68. Dautrich said Bush caused a “negative coattail effect.” He cited general frustration with the direction of the Republican Party as another reason for its failings in the state.

“There aren’t many social conservatives in the Northeast – Republicans in the region are fiscal conservatives,” Dautrich said. “The party as a whole has not catered to the fiscal conservatives of the Northeast.”

Nancy DiNardo, the state Democratic Party chairwoman, said in an phone interview Wednesday she is certain the Republicans will rebound from this year’s losses. DiNardo attributed the defeats, at least in part, to the harsh economic climate as well as the popular candidacy of President-elect Barack Obama.

“This tends to be cyclical,” she said. “There is no doubt the economy helped Democrats.”

State Senate Majority Leader Martin M. Looney said although Democrats have veto-proof majorities in both houses, it does not mean they are free to do as they please.

“We rely on Democrats who were elected to formerly Republican districts,” he said in an phone interview Wednesday. “They have different priorities than urban Democrats.”

But Republicans scrutinizing their own strategies, as well. In an interview with The New York Times, state Senate Minority Leader John McKinney said Republicans need to listen to moderates in order to recover.

“People are tired of the same old partisanship,” McKinney said in the interview. “They want politicians to work for them, not for a party.”

The setback for state Republicans combined with a growing budget deficit is prompting a new spirit of bipartisanship among leaders of both political parties. Senate President Donald E. Williams, a Democrat, offered his party’s support to Republican Gov. M. Jodi Rell in dealing with the budget crisis.

“No party or person has a monopoly on good ideas,” he said in a statement released Wednesday. “Gov. Rell asked for the help of Democrats in the legislature today – and she’s got it.

Rell, the last Republican in statewide office, recently launched an exploratory committee for a re-election bid in 2010.

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