Ann Hui Ching

The nomination of Brett Kavanaugh ’87 LAW ’90 to the Supreme Court has sparked heated debate at both a national and state level. And, in the Nutmeg state, it has found its way into a gubernatorial race.

The issue became a topic of contention when Republican gubernatorial nominee Bob Stefanowski drew criticism for bypassing a question about his stance on Kavanaugh’s nomination during a debate last Wednesday.

“I’m gonna pass on that: That’s a federal issue,” Stefanowski said last week, to a smattering of boos from University of Connecticut students, faculty members and staff.

Since then, Stefanowski has called for the accusations of sexual assault against Kavanaugh to be taken seriously, saying he supports the current FBI investigation. Meanwhile, Democratic candidate Ned Lamont SOM ’80 has steadfastly opposed the Supreme Court nominee, asserting his stance at the debate.

In a press conference Friday morning, Lamont asked Stefanowski to take a position on Kavanaugh’s nomination, noting the relevance of the topic given that governors must appoint State Supreme Court justices. During the conference, Lamont also reiterated his support for an independent FBI investigation into Kavanaugh. He said he believes Christine Blasey Ford, a professor of psychology at Palo Alto University who testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee last Thursday, when she says that Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her as a high school students in the 1980s.

An FBI investigation into Ford’s allegations was initiated last week following Thursday’s hearing and is ongoing.

Colin McEnroe ’76, political commentator and WNPR radio host, said that Lamont is trying to link the gubernatorial race to an issue voters are likely more familiar with.

“Stories like the Kavanaugh story are eating up a lot of oxygen, and so it’s harder to get people to pay attention to something like the gubernatorial debate,” McEnroe said in an interview with the News.

For voters who may not be following the state race closely, Lamont can make gains by associating himself with the more prominent and voter-turnout-inducing national issues, according to McEnroe.

“You can’t take a pass on this,” Lamont said at the press conference, referring to Stefanowski’s debate response.

Around a dozen women candidates, survivors of sexual assault and advocates joined Lamont at the press conference — including state Sen. Beth Bye, D-West Hartford, and Christine Palm, a Democratic activist who is running for state representative.

Stefanowski has since clarified his debate comments. In a written statement released late last week, he said sexual assault allegations should be taken seriously, adding that he supports the current FBI investigation. But Stefanowski noted that he is more focused on the issues directly facing Connecticut.

“As governor, I will ensure that any and all nominations I make to Connecticut’s courts are individuals who are highly qualified and have demonstrated outstanding moral character,” Stefanowski said in the statement.

McEnroe sees two potential explanations for Stefanowski’s debate response. Most likely, he said, Stefanowski was caught off guard by the question. McEnroe noted that Stefanowski, who has no prior experience running for political office, is not able to pivot back to taxes and the state economy in a lightning-round format and thus might not have been ready to answer the question.

The second explanation that McEnroe put forth is more strategic. Connecticut has roughly twice as many registered Democrats as Republicans, meaning Stefanowski will need to attract a large percentage of unaffiliated voters to win the election. Because these voters are so heterogeneous, McEnroe says, Stefanowski may want to avoid specifying positions on polarizing national issues to prevent alienating a large portion of the Connecticut voter base.

Connecticut Republican State Chairman J.R. Romano said most voters care much more about taxes and Connecticut’s economy than national issues when it comes to gubernatorial races. Romano said Lamont’s renewed focus on national issues is a distraction from the failed fiscal policies of current Gov. Dannel Malloy and other Democrats.

Independent candidate Oz Griebel, who was also present at last Wednesday’s debate, offered an answer to the Kavanaugh question straddling the position of the two major-party candidates.

“I think the women who’ve come forward have to be heard,” he said. “I also think Judge Kavanaugh deserves a fair hearing.”

Last Friday, the Judiciary Committee voted 11–10 to bring Kavanaugh’s nomination before the entire Senate. The nomination vote, however, will wait at least until the FBI investigation has concluded.

Conor Johnson | conor.johnson@yale.edu .