Yash Roy, Contributing Photographer

With seven weeks to go before the midterms elections, GOP gubernatorial candidate Bob Stefanowski faced off against incumbent Democratic governor Ned Lamont in the race’s first debate. 

The sparring came one week after Stefanowski swept into deep-blue New Haven to unveil his tax plan and tout his city roots.

Recent polling shows Lamont running a comfortable 15 points ahead of Stefanowski; in their last matchup in 2018, Lamont beat Stefanowski by just three. The Republican has used his time on the campaign trail emphasizing his upbringing in a working-class neighborhood and subsequent rise to riches. 

“People like to say two rich guys are running for governor, but I came up from Newhallville, while my opponent comes from Greenwich,” Stefanowski said.

In what some theorize is a Republican-friendly political environment nationwide, Stefanowski’s backers are hoping to surprise in a heavily Democratic state, especially as state Republicans have typically outperformed their national counterparts. A string of scandals in the Lamont administration could also open the door for an upset.

Stefanowski’s hometown has proved unfriendly territory, however; Lamont and local Democrats have sought to paint Stefanowski as out-of-touch with the state’s economic needs, launching pointed criticism at his newly-released tax cuts plan that would include a tax credit for property owners, extension of the federal gas holiday and a reduction in state sales tax. 

Stefanowski’s plan — Connecticut FIRST — would also halve the state’s $6 billion rainy day fund, which acts as a stabilizer for when the state’s tax revenue dips.

“It’s unconscionable that the state is sitting on a $6 billion reserve while this happens,” Stefanowski said during Tuesday’s debate.

Connecticut has historically experienced rapid fluctuations in tax revenue, in large part because a portion of the state’s workforce derives income from financial markets.

Stefanowski claims his plan would ultimately return an average of $2,000 to households a year amid elevated inflation.

At the debate, Lamont blasted the plan, declaring that “right now is exactly the wrong time to be playing games with how we save money.”

“The simple truth is that Bob appears determined to drag our economy back to the endless cycle of budget deficits and fiscal malfeasance,” Lamont campaign spokesperson Jake Lewis wrote in an email to the News. 

New Haven Democrats say that Stefanowski’s plan would severely harm the city’s spending abilities. Mayor Justin Elicker said that the current sales tax has helped stabilize the city’s coffers and predicted that reducing the tax would actually “force municipalities like New Haven to raise taxes.”

The mayor further criticized the “evisceration” of the state’s rainy day fund, claiming that it would “cause many challenges financially for our municipality.” Elicker said that in years past, the state’s budget issues have caused it to cut its contribution to cities like New Haven at the eleventh hour of budget negotiations. 

Board of Alders President Tyisha Walker-Myers likened the Republican’s proposal to a “page out of Trump’s economic plan” that would do little to help a city with a high percentage of renters. 

“I’d like to see Mr. Stefanowski do better,” Elicker said at a conference called in response to Stefanowski saying New Haven could do better. “I’ve seen him in this city once in the past two and a half, almost three years since I’ve been mayor. And he’s never reached out to me to be a partner to address our problems in the city.” 

Though he has publicly blasted the polls — claiming that internal polls show the race within the margin of error — Stefanowski quietly replaced his campaign manager and chief strategist in August. 

Despite his trailing numbers, Stefanowski’s financial backers are pouring funds into the race, purchasing $3 million in advertisements attacking Lamont on television, radio and online. 

As of last quarter’s filing information, the spending in the race has totaled $14.6 million, with a fairly even split in spending: Republicans at $7.4 million and Democrats at $7.2 million. 

The Lamont campaign declined to comment on the campaign’s fundraising. As of July, Lamont had raised roughly $275,000 in individual contributions and spent roughly $6.5 million. 

Both candidates have said they are investing their significant personal wealth; Stefanowski has plunged $10 million into the race; the Lamont campaign has not yet disclose his self-contribution.

The next FEC deadline is Sept. 30, with filings published on Oct. 15.

Yash Roy | yash.roy@yale.edu

Yash Roy covered City Hall and State Politics for the News. He also served as a Production & Design editor, and Diversity, Equity & Inclusion chair for the News. Originally from Princeton, New Jersey, he is a '25 in Timothy Dwight College majoring in Global Affairs.