With more than a dozen candidates in the race to replace outgoing Gov. Dannel Malloy and a couple more on the fence, Connecticut looks set for of the most crowded 2018 gubernatorial elections in the United States.
So far, 28 candidates, including 15 Republicans and nine Democrats, have already filed to run — a number second only to California, which has an open primary system, according to the Connecticut State Elections Enforcement Commission. In 2010, the last time an incumbent did not seek the governorship in Connecticut, the number of candidates was eight.
The overflowing field further expanded on Monday when Erin Stewart, the Republican mayor of New Britain, announced that she would start an “exploratory” campaign for governor. Several other candidates have also adopted the same approach: Democrat Susan Bysiewicz ’83, the former Secretary of State, participated in a Democratic gubernatorial forum in Glastonbury last Wednesday without formally announcing her candidacy.
At the moment, the race is a toss-up.
“There is no one out there who is identified as the ‘anointed candidate,’” said Gary Rose, a political science professor at Sacred Heart University.
In the past, political parties have lined up behind specific candidates, but this time, “there is absolutely no indication in either party,” Rose said. The candidates in the pool hail from a wide variety of backgrounds, ranging from local politics to the business world.
Although a few Democratic candidates such as Bysiewicz and Ned Lamont SOM ’80 — the Democratic nominee for Senate in 2006 — have statewide profiles, their name recognition has slipped rapidly in recent years, as they have stayed off the ballot, said Roy Occhiogrosso, Malloy’s former chief strategist.
And then there are potential spoilers. Oz Griebel, a businessman who ran in the 2010 Republican primary, has paired up with Monte Frank, a Democrat, for an independent bid for the governorship.
Another major reason for the crowded field of candidates is the widespread dissatisfaction with state government, especially among Republicans, he said. The state has faced a spate of economic and fiscal difficulties under Malloy, and the political stalemate last year left the state without a budget for 123 days, he said.
A poll by Morning Consult in Oct. 2017 showed that in the wake of budget impasses, Malloy’s approval rating stood at 24 percent — the second-lowest among governors in the nation.
Malloy announced last April that he would not seek a third term.
Despite the unpopular incumbent governor, Democrats are also energized to run, according to Tom Dudchik, founder of the political website CT Capitol Report. He said Democrats feel that widespread disapproval of President Donald Trump will overshadow the dissatisfaction with the Democratic state government.
“It really comes down to who the electorate hates most, the governor and Democrats or Trump and Republicans,” Dudchik said.
Most prediction websites, such as the Cook Political Report, have rated the race as a “toss-up,” even though the national climate tilts toward the left and Connecticut is generally considered a heavily Democratic state.
While acknowledging that the state government remains unpopular, John Olsen, former chairman of the Connecticut Democratic Party, noted that the northeast is much less partisan on the state level. Malloy was the first Democratic governor in the state since 1990, and four of the six New England states currently have Republican governors.
Occhiogrosso said the Democratic field is largely united in supporting certain policy platforms, especially after Dan Drew, mayor of Middletown — whose campaign was “as liberal as you can get,” he said — dropped out this month. The Republican side, in contrast, features major ideological rifts between its moderate wing — like Stewart and Mark Boughton, mayor of Danbury — and its more conservative pro-Trump wings, according to Occhiogrosso.
Jonathan Wharton, chairman of the New Haven Republican Town Committee, disputed Occhiogrosso’s assessment in an interview with the News. He cited Luke Bronin, mayor of Hartford, as someone who might run to the left of other Democrats. He added that a major issue in this election — one that has been overlooked as a result of the focus on Trump and Malloy — is the generational split between older, more experienced officials and younger candidates.
Vincent Mauro, the chairman of the New Haven Democratic Party, echoed his counterpart’s sentiment, noting that the gubernatorial election is different from other races in its emphasis on substance.
“People expect a governor to know everything about everything,” Mauro said. “You can ‘soundbite’ to other offices. You can’t ‘soundbite’ to governor.”
Malcolm Tang | firstname.lastname@example.org