In the Connecticut gubernatorial race, a total of four debates have pitted combinations of Democratic candidate Ned Lamont SOM ’80, Republican candidate Bob Stefanowski and independent candidate Oz Griebel against each other on stages across the state.
None of the candidates has differentiated himself from the rest of the field in terms of substance. In terms of style, however, experts on state politics said Griebel has been the most commanding and confident of the three, even though he has only participated in one debate with the two major-party candidates.
“[Griebel] seems perfectly at ease, fluent and very confident up there,” said Gary Rose, a political science professor at Sacred Heart University and a frequent Connecticut political commentator.
Current Gov. Dannel Malloy’s April 2017 announcement that he would not seek re-election spurred a host of candidates to declare their intentions for governor on both sides of the aisle.
On the Democratic side, Lamont and former Connecticut Secretary of State Susan Bysiewicz ’83 emerged as the two favorites, and the pair decided to join forces a week before the Democrats’ May state convention. The team, spearheaded by Lamont, both handily won the Aug. 14 primary. Lamont defeated Bridgeport Mayor Joe Ganim by over 60 percentage points, while Bysiewicz won the lieutenant gubernatorial primary by 24 percentage points.
On the other hand, the Republican race was much less decisive. Stefanowski won the highly competitive Republican primary with only 29.4 percent of the vote, much less than a majority. Electing to forgo the traditional nominating process, in which candidates are allowed on the ballot based on delegate votes at a state party convention, Stefanowski entered the ballot by collecting petition signatures across the Nutmeg state. Stefanowski beat out businessmen Steve Obsitnik and David Stemerman, Danbury Mayor and Republican Party–nominated candidate Mark Boughton as well as Trumbull First Selectman Tim Herbst.
In the Aug. 14 Republican primary, each of the five main candidates received at least 13 percent of the vote, but Stefanowski beat out second-place Boughton by eight points.
Griebel, who had previously ran for governor as a Republican in 2010, declared his independent candidacy early on and achieved the requisite amount of signatures to get on the ballot last month.
Of the four debates held thus far, only one has been attended by all three candidates. Stefanowski refused to attend the first debate, while Griebel was not invited to the two middle debates due to low polling numbers.
In both the debates and the general gubernatorial race, Connecticut’s crumbling economy has been the central issue discussed. Nearly every question posed at the debates has related to taxes, jobs or the state budget crisis.
But when it comes to articulating their plans, both Lamont and Stefanowski have mainly offered platitudes and comparisons, offering little in the way of policy substance to fix the economy, according to political columnist Chris Powell.
“The only question that matters is how you’re going to close the projected budget deficits, and none of them specified where they will get the money,” Powell, political columnist for the Journal Enquirer, previously told the News.
On the Republican side, Stefanowski has repeatedly attacked Lamont for proposing to raise taxes, specifically sales taxes and certain tolls. Stefanowski’s own plan calls to completely eliminate the state income tax, but he has offered no concrete response to the criticism that his plan would cause a $10-12 billion dollars of annual revenue loss, beyond saying a vibrant economy will bring in more tax revenue.
Stefanowski has also avoided answering questions about potentially contentious social issues in an attempt to avoid any ties with the national GOP or Trump. For instance, in the most recent debate, held last Wednesday at the University of Connecticut’s Storrs campus, he declined to give Trump a job rating, despite previously giving him an “A” in his primary acceptance speech.
At the same debate, he refused to say whether he supported the nomination of federal judge Brett Kavanaugh ’87 LAW ’90 for the Supreme Court, characterizing it as a federal issue.
Rose thinks this avoidance of hot-button national topics is smart for any Republican candidate in Connecticut — a state which has roughly double the amount of registered Democrats as Republicans.
Lamont, however, has also given few specifics, instead relying more on forceful social stances that seem at odds with the fiscal challenges of the state. He expressed his support for infrastructure and transportation reform, greater education spending and more affordable housing, including lowering property taxes — all of which will require a significant investment for the cash-strapped state.
In the most recent debate, Lamont listed three spending areas where he thinks the state’s budget deficit can be cut — healthcare, pension structural reforms and shared services for towns. He did not espouse further on any of these ideas, however, and he has not made clear how cuts to only these policies can cover the projected $2 billion deficit.
Powell and Rose both noted that all the debates seem to be cycling around the same talking points. Both described the most recent debate as the least illuminating of the three substance-wise, as both major-party candidates primarily just repeated what they said in last debate.
Of the three candidates, Rose thinks Griebel has had the best performance in terms of style. Although he has only been up on stage with Lamont and Stefanowski once, both Rose and Powell agreed that Griebel’s blunt and forceful delivery gives off a gubernatorial air.
“I think he’s an attractive, intelligent guy who certainly helped himself by being there,” Powell said. “It’s possible he made a decisive impression on people who don’t like Lamont or Stefanowski.”
However, Powell also said he thought Griebel had little more to say in terms of substantive policy than the major-party candidates.
Polling following the first set of debates has been limited. A September Sacred Heart University poll, which surveyed 501 likely voters between Sept. 12 and Sept. 17, reported that Lamont has a 6.2-point lead over Stefanowski. An August poll from the same university reported Lamont only having a 3.9-point lead.
Neither of the polls directly measured support for Griebel.
The next gubernatorial debate, hosted by the Connecticut Association of Broadcasters, will be held on Oct. 18.
Conor Johnson | firstname.lastname@example.org .