Mayor John DeStefano Jr.’s campaign for governor is gaining financial momentum, with $1.79 million in contributions already raised — more than any other candidate currently in the race. But polling indicates that DeStefano, along with the other declared Democratic gubernatorial candidates, lags far behind Republican Gov. M. Jodi Rell in popularity.
DeStefano’s fund-raising efforts have put him ahead of Secretary of the State Susan Bysiewicz ’83 and Stamford Mayor Dannel Malloy, the other Democrats who have officially declared their candidacy. More than a year before the election, DeStefano has already raised more money than 2002 Democratic nominee Bill Curry did in his failed campaign against Republican Gov. John Rowland.
The race could soon get more crowded though, with two Democrats, attorney general Richard Blumenthal LAW ’73 and lieutenant governor Kevin Sullivan, still contemplating running. U.S. Sen. Christopher Dodd has also been rumored to have considered a gubernatorial bid, though he has consistently denied plans to run.
Meanwhile, Rell has maintained record-high approval ratings — 80 percent among Connecticut voters, as of the latest Quinnipiac University poll results, released last week. The governor, who earns high points for integrity with Connecticut residents in the poll, has not yet decided whether she will run in 2006.
According to the Quinnipiac poll, Rell would dominate any of the currently declared Democratic candidates, including DeStefano, if the election were held today. The poll, which has a 2.5 percent margin of error, concluded that Rell would defeat Bysiewicz by a 64-21 margin, DeStefano 66-19, and Malloy 66-17.
According to Quinnipiac poll director Doug Schwartz, one key reason for DeStefano’s lag behind Rell is that his popularity is concentrated locally.
“[DeStefano] would get trounced if the election were held today, but some of that is due to lack of recognition,” Schwartz said.
Sullivan is in a similar position, down 64-22, while Dodd’s support seems to have fallen off since the last Quinnipiac poll on the 2006 governor’s race, which was taken in November. In that poll, Dodd and Rell were running neck-and-neck, with Rell leading 45-43. The new poll indicates Rell now has a 50-39 advantage over Dodd. Meanwhile, support for Blumenthal has increased, putting him at the top of the Democratic pack, three points behind Rell at 46-43.
Despite polling 47 points below Rell — 10 points more than in November — DeStefano campaign manager Shonu Gandhi ’03 said she found the results encouraging.
“What we see as encouraging is that, of the Democrats running, even though the mayor has never run a statewide election before, he’s polling exactly the same as two Democrats who hold statewide office [Bysiewicz and Sullivan],” Gandhi said. “For him to be polling at the same levels that they are really speaks to his promise as a Democratic candidate. There is no Democrat running for governor who has a better chance of defeating Governor Rell at all.”
Tanya Meck, spokesperson for the Bysiewicz campaign, said it is too early in the race for polls to be relevant.
“I don’t know that polls are particularly helpful when you don’t know who’s going to run,” she said.
Meck also said Bysiewicz, though behind DeStefano in total funds raised, with roughly $1.5 million, has a strong base of small contributors and has greater momentum, with more money raised over the last two quarters.
On the other hand, DeStefano raised nearly twice as much as Bysiewicz in the last quarter.
DeStefano’s campaign is focusing on extending the mayor’s recognition beyond New Haven. Fund-raising figures indicate that an increasing proportion of donations to the campaign are coming from outside the greater New Haven area, Gandhi said.
DeStefano is speaking with Democrats statewide and has already met with 35 town committees, mostly in the past four months. In addition, the campaign recently launched an online blog, www.destefanoforct.com, to engage voters in a political dialogue.
“Television has dominated political campaigns for the last 50 years,” Gandhi said. “Through television, politicians talk at people. We really believe the Internet can offer people the chance to communicate back and tell us their ideas.”
Gandhi said the DeStefano campaign will step up efforts and spending to communicate with Connecticut voters through a variety of media, including television, radio, Internet and mail, in 2006.