Although Connecticut boasts nearly twice as many registered Democrats as registered Republicans, the gubernatorial race to replace unpopular Gov. Dannel Malloy is too close to call.
For much of the campaign, Democratic nominee and cable entrepreneur Ned Lamont SOM ’80 looked poised to claim the title of Connecticut’s 89th governor, but a late push in the polls by Republican nominee and former UBS executive Bob Stefanowski has brought the race much closer, leaving voters and pundits with little idea on who will win the race. Voters also have a third choice on Tuesday — independent candidate and former MetroHartford Alliance CEO Oz Griebel, who has been polling at just under 10 percent.
“This election is about taxes and jobs,” Sacred Heart University professor and frequent gubernatorial debate panelist Gary Rose told the News after a Sept. 17 debate in New Haven. “Everything else has been relegated to secondary status.”
Early polling favored Lamont. An early poll from Quinnipiac University immediately following the primary reported Lamont with a 13-point lead over Stefanowski. Lamont led a number of other polls by comfortable margins, including a reported eight-point lead over Stefanowski in a mid-October Quinnipiac University poll. But experts such as political columnist Chris Powell and radio host and Hartford Courant columnist Colin McEnroe ’76 previously told the News that early results are often unreliable.
Now, it appears that Stefanowski has closed the gap. A new poll released by Sacred Heart University on Thursday has Stefanowski ahead by 2.4 percentage points, the first poll of the campaign that has Stefanowski ahead. The poll surveyed 500 likely voters between Oct. 29 and Oct. 31, and also found that 12.2 percent of respondents are still unsure of who they will vote for. A poll from Sacred Heart University two weeks ago reported a 3.4-point lead for Lamont.
Still, other recent polls show Lamont with a comfortable lead heading into Tuesday’s election. A Gravis Marketing poll, which surveyed 681 likely voters from Oct. 31 to Nov. 1, reported a nine-point lead for Lamont, and an Emerson College poll, which surveyed 780 likely voters from Oct. 27 to Oct. 29, reported Lamont leading by seven points.
The candidates have sparred over many issues in the campaign, but the majority of their rhetoric has focused on jobs and taxes. Stefanowski has repeatedly criticized Lamont for his plan to institute a toll on out-of-state trucks, claiming that this is the beginning of a plethora of taxes similar to the tax hikes Malloy has implemented while in office.
“For me, it’s simple: No New Tolls,” read one of several tax-related tweets from Stefanowski’s Twitter on Monday. “Ned Lamont says he will make building tolls ‘A Priority from Day 1’ — We simply can’t afford more new taxes from #NewTaxNed.”
Lamont has fired back, hammering Stefanowski on his unwillingness to take positions on social issues and his plan to phase out the state’s income tax.
In gubernatorial debates held in New Haven and the University of Connecticut, Lamont repeatedly pressed Stefanowski on how he would make up for the roughly $11 billion of budget revenue generated by the income tax.
Lamont has also said he would lower property taxes for the middle class if elected governor.
“Decades of fiscal mismanagement mean we can’t afford pie-in-the-sky promises, so I’m proposing a smart, achievable commitment to responsibly give middle class families the tax relief they deserve,” said Lamont in an August statement on his tax relief plan.
Independent candidate Griebel has also made a splash in this campaign, securing a couple of prominent endorsements from the Hartford Courant and other publications. In interviews with the News conducted after the Sept. 26 gubernatorial debate at the University of Connecticut, both Powell and Rose were impressed by Griebel’s presence.
“The thing that came out for me most of all was that Griebel spoke well and looked gubernatorial,” Powell said.
Griebel, however, has yet to garner above 11 percent in any poll, and is suspected to do little else besides take votes away from the major-party candidates.
In a letter on Monday, a group of 10 progressive organizations supporting abortion rights and stronger gun laws called for Griebel to drop out and endorse Lamont. The groups predict that the independent candidate will draw more votes from Lamont than Stefanowski.
In a tweet Monday, the Griebel campaign rebuffed their petition, saying he and running mate Monte Frank would remain in the race.
“Oz and Monte are campaigning to win tomorrow’s election,” read the campaign’s Twitter. “If you care about women’s issues and reducing gun violence, Oz and Monte are the best choice.”
After Malloy announced that he would not run for reelection in April 2017, the race was left wide open. More than 25 candidates announced exploratory committees to run for governor, but few of these 25 had previously held state political office. One notable exception was former Connecticut Secretary of State Susan Bysiewicz ’83, who ran on the Democratic side.
According to an October poll conducted by Sacred Heart University, Malloy’s approval rating stands at 14.6 percent, the lowest approval rating of any state governor in the country.
A number of mayors entered the race on the Democratic side, including Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin ’01 LAW ’06 and former West Hartford Mayor Jonathan Harris. Not to be outdone, the initial pool of candidates on the Republican side included Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton and New Britain Mayor Erin Stewart.
Eventually, the Democratic Party coalesced around Lamont. A week before the Democratic Party’s state convention in May, he and Bysiewicz decided to form a joint ticket, with Lamont as the gubernatorial candidate and Bysiewicz as the lieutenant gubernatorial candidate. The pair cruised to victory in the Aug. 14 primary, both winning their respective elections by more than 20 points.
The Republican side, however, was much more competitive. Stefanowski elected to forgo the traditional convention nominating process, choosing instead to petition his way onto the ballot. He defeated Boughton, the party-nominated candidate, and three other candidates in the primary, winning despite garnering only 29 percent of the vote.
Since the primary, Lamont and Stefanowski have faced off in a half-dozen debates, ran several television ads and spent millions of their own dollars on their respective campaigns.
Whoever wins will be tasked with fixing a state in fiscal and economic disarray. In 2017, the state’s biannual budget was passed after a 117-day delay, the longest fiscal standoff in Connecticut history . The new governor will have to contend with a projected $4.7 billion shortfall for the next budget cycle, according to an analysis by Connecticut’s Office of Fiscal Analysis.
And, a decade later, Connecticut’s economy has yet to fully recover from from the Great Recession. Statistics from the Department of Labor on Gross State Product, which measures the total economic output of a state, show that since 2010 Connecticut is the only state with negative growth — a loss of 3.3 percent. New York and Massachusetts, two of Connecticut’s neighbors, both saw growth rates above 10 percent over the same period. And according to The Wall Street Journal, since 2007, Connecticut’s economy has shrunk 9.3 percent.
Conor Johnson | firstname.lastname@example.org