Lamont hands down his second term against Stefanowski
By Mark Pazniokas / CTMirror.org
Governor Ned Lamont, a Democrat whose leadership during COVID-19 helped him bounce back from first-year missteps and one of the lowest gubernatorial approval ratings in the United States, won a second term on Tuesday by defeating Republican Bob Stefanowski for a second time.
Stefanowski refused to concede the race on Tuesday night, but unofficial results give Lamont a comfortable victory, with about 650,000 votes, or 55%, to Stefanowski’s 511,000, or about 44%.
In Westport, Lamont beat Stefanowski, winning nearly 8,900 votes, or about 72%, to the Republican’s 3,416, or about 28%. The governor had the Working Family Party line in Tuesday’s ballot, in addition to the Democratic line.
The race was called in Lamont’s favor by ABC News and Fox News, leading the governor to take the stage in Hartford shortly after 11:30 p.m. Tuesday to declare victory. The Associated Press called him for Lamont just before 1 a.m.
“Now we are all together. We work together as one, because that’s what Connecticut always does. That’s the Connecticut difference, isn’t it? Lamont told fans at Dunkin’ Donuts Park, the minor league ballpark.
Stefanowski told supporters at a hotel in Trumbull that he would wait for further feedback before deciding whether to concede or not.
“We’ve been waiting for the right answer, and we’re going to have to wait a bit longer,” Stefanowski said to hoarse applause.
While the returns were incomplete, sources from both sides said the numbers in key suburbs left Stefanowski without a path to victory.
Lamont said he and Lieutenant Governor Susan Bysiewicz had no doubts about the outcome.
“We know where we are,” Lamont said.
Stefanowski didn’t concede in 2018 until the next morning.
It was a field of three gubernatorial candidates this year, topped by Rob Hotaling of the Connecticut Independent Party, who won about 11,500 votes, just under 1% of the total vote. Hotaling won 56 votes in Westport, according to unofficial results.
In a battle of wealthy auto-financiers who collectively spent more than $34 million on their rematch, Lamont showed surprising strength in the suburbs that Stefanowski won four years ago, resisting what the GOP hoped would be a red wave. .
Democrats maintained their strong majorities in both houses of the General Assembly, flipping two House seats in Greenwich and winning a new district centered on wealthy Wilton, a sign of the party’s growing strength in Fairfield County.
Stefanowski, who urged voters to view the campaign as a job interview, failed to convince them to fire the governor who became a reassuring presence in daily televised briefings after COVID hit in March 2020. , disrupting commerce, education, social life and politics.
“In terms of all this negativity on both sides out there in the political world, I’d like to think the center holds in the state of Connecticut,” Lamont said before the polls closed. “I like to think we’ve been hanging on during COVID and being united.”
A sitting governor seeking another term has not been defeated in Connecticut since 1954, but the 2022 midterm elections were conducted with inflation at its highest level in 40 years and US politics increasingly more fueled by anger and distrust of government and elections.
To win a second term, Lamont spent at least $21 million to protect against negative publicity and the dangers of governing a high-tax state with chronically high energy and housing costs during a volatile period of high inflation. .
Stefanowski spent at least $12 million.
A failed first-year effort to bring back tolls on Connecticut freeways appeared to leave Lamont destined to serve a single term, but polls showed the toll debacle had been forgotten as the governor confronted COVID. His approval rating has rebounded and he hasn’t trailed in any public polls in 2022.
Lamont capitalized on the state’s string of budget surpluses by cutting taxes in an election year, paying off Connecticut’s monstrous pension debt, and filling the rainy day fund in anticipation of the recession.
Stefanowski, 60, a former executive at GE and UBS whose last corporate position was chief executive of a payday loan company, opened his 2022 campaign in January by asking the same question that propelled Ronald Reagan to the White House in 1980, another election dominated by inflation.
Are voters better off than four years ago?
“It’s affordable. These are utility bills. This is the cost of gas. It’s about increasing crime,” Stefanowski said at the time. “It’s about the government’s responsibility and having some visibility into how they’re spending our money in Hartford and having some accountability about it.”
If voters felt they were worse off, not enough of them blamed Lamont or saw Stefanowski as the solution.
Lamont, 68, the founder of a cable television company, was a Connecticut cheerleader, pitching with some success to the editorial page of the Wall Street Journal the argument that the state had moved to a stronger fiscal foundation, with stable or positive bond ratings, low unemployment and a positive balance sheet.
“I just don’t want people to vote against something. I want people to vote for something,” Lamont said. “I hope I gave people something to vote for in terms of where we went as a state.”
Stefanowski maintained throughout the spring, summer and fall that Lamont’s optimism was misplaced.
CNBC ranked the state 39th for places to do business in 2022, down 15 spots from the previous year. CNBC gave Connecticut failing grades for its cost of living and economy, offsetting passing grades for a quality workforce, good education, and administration deemed business-friendly.
Stefanowski’s campaign has never stabilized at a steady pace, periodically returning to the economy, while slamming Lamont for signing a police-opposed police accountability bill, claiming crime was “out of control” and making overtures to social conservatives and vaccine skeptics.
“I don’t think Bob Stefanowski ever found his message or his reasons for voters to vote for him over Ned Lamont. He went from one divisive topic to another and never quite found his footing,” said Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin, a Democrat. “The one thing he consistently did throughout the campaign was talk about the state of Connecticut as a whole, and the cities in particular.”
Lamont is not a polarizing personality, but his use of sweeping emergency powers during the pandemic eventually sparked a backlash, first over the closure of restaurants and bars, then one organized around opposition to his mandate for masks in schools.
Outside a polling station in Bristol, two organizers from an “unmask our children” group greeted Stefanowski late Tuesday morning.
Emily Bailey held a sign that promised that if Lamont won reelection, Connecticut would make COVID vaccinations mandatory for children to attend school, which the governor denied.
Bristol is a Democrat by registration, less by results. The GOP took control of City Hall last year. As Democrats have expanded their base in Fairfield County suburbs that were once reliably Republican, some blue-collar communities have left the Democratic coalition.
“We are blue collar workers,” said Susan Tyler, a retired police officer and Republican member of Bristol City Council. “We are a working town.”
Bristol is in shock over the recent shooting deaths of two police officers, but Tyler said she saw no signs that the killings moved voters one way or another, even though Stefanowski got support of the police union and accused Lamont of being anti-police.
“I think that message was already there before that. I don’t know if this incident really had anything to do with politics,” Tyler said.
Overall, Stefanowski’s reliance on the crime issue in the final weeks of the campaign seemed to fall flat in the suburbs.
State Sen. Henri Martin, R-Bristol, said Democrats are trying to use animosity against Trump two years after he left the White House, an issue he says has waned.
But Rich Goodwin, a Democratic candidate, disagreed. He said the two parties now reflect national politics.
“I was an unaffiliated voter until Donald Trump was elected. I ran for mayor the next day and became a Democrat,” Goodwin said. “I haven’t voted for a Republican since.”
Goodwin said he regretted the change, the loss of a center in both games.
“He went too far left and too far right,” Goodwin said. “We need more moderates. I am a moderate.
CT Mirror staff writers Andrew Brown and Dave Altimari contributed to this story.