Connecticut Republicans united Friday night behind the revived gubernatorial ambitions of Bob Stefanowski, the businessman who outflanked the GOP establishment in 2018 to lose by three points to Governor Ned Lamont.
Stefanowski, 59, of Madison is a former corporate CEO who pledged $10 million of his own money to do what hasn’t been done since 1954: unseat a sitting governor in Connecticut, the land of the stable habits.
In a ballroom at the Foxwoods Resort Casino, state convention delegates endorsed Stefanowski and his running mate, Rep. Laura Devlin, 61, of Fairfield.
“We did it,” Stefanowski said, smiling broadly and raising his fist.
Delegates also endorsed Representative Harry Arora of Greenwich for Treasurer and Jessica Kordas of Norwalk for Attorney General. Voting resumes on Saturday on contested nominations for comptroller, secretary of state and the US Senate.
Stefanowski’s acceptance speech went straight to the heart of his message and his challenge: Republicans are pursuing a case of Democratic tax malfeasance in a year of tax cuts, surpluses, reduced debts and big reservations.
“After 40 years of a Democratic-controlled legislature, Connecticut is the definition of a failed state — billions and billions in debt with absolutely nothing to show for it,” Stefanowski said.
Watching was Tim Ackert, a delegate and state representative from Coventry.
He has already heard Lamont repeatedly make a succinct argument that Connecticut has bounced back, sometimes even praising Republicans like Ackert for helping to put in place significant safeguards against overspending in a 2017 bipartisan budget.
Republicans have a point to make, he said, but Democrats have a two-word sticker right now: tax cuts.
“It’s going to be tough,” he said.
Ben Proto, the Republican state chairman, said Stefanowski would be helped by the specter of inflation and the impact consumers are already seeing when buying groceries or pumping gas.
“They pay $3.50 to $4 for a gallon of milk, plus $4 for a gallon of gas, $6 for a gallon of fuel oil,” Proto said. “Prices are rising, wages are stagnating. And the tax cuts, at the end of the day, are minimal for the average family.
Four years ago, Stefanowski promised revolution. He offered a daily affirmation of his vow to cut state government costs and do away with his income tax over eight years, a supply-for-growth prescription.
This year he talks more modestly, almost generically, about making Connecticut a little more affordable. He riffs on Ronald Reagan’s 1980 campaign in which inflationary fears made voters receptive to the ousting of incumbent Jimmy Carter.
On Friday, Stefanowski spoke of simpler times, better times when his parents worked for the telephone company, a symbol of stable income and a path to the middle class.
“Life was simple. The neighborhood was safe. Utility bills, groceries, gas prices were all affordable. You could actually buy a car without having to wait six months to get into it,” said Stefanowski, who grew up in North Haven. “My three three sisters and I received an excellent education in public schools.
“We graduated from colleges in Connecticut without a ton of crippling student debt,” he said. “Connecticut was a winner, the envy of the nation with low taxes, a state government that knew when to help – and when to get the heck out of the way.”
This message may have had greater resonance four years ago.
Stefanowski was then vying for an open seat, trying to succeed an unpopular Democratic governor who had inherited a massive deficit, repeatedly raised taxes and seen revenues fall below projections in six of his eight years.
Stefanowski mixes his tax message this year with a call to parents unhappy about the impact of COVID-19 on their children’s education and a nod to conservative talking points on social media and Fox News on erosion. parental influence on what their children learn in schools.
“My Connecticut vision emphasizes the core values that have made the United States the greatest country in the world, an ability to provide Connecticut residents with personal freedom, individual liberty, a smaller government that empowers residents to live their lives the way they want to — a vision that will empower parents, not the state government, to raise their children,” Stefanowski said.
This line earned him perhaps his strongest applause.
Neither Stefanowski nor Devlin took note of the Supreme Court’s expected repeal of Roe v. Wade, guaranteeing that abortion will be a feature of every statewide race in America. Devlin recently voted for an abortion rights bill that makes Connecticut a safe haven for women seeking abortions.
“I’m running for lieutenant governor because we need a team leading our state that listens to the people, isn’t afraid to act, and holds the people to account,” Devlin said. a former Pfizer executive. “Our state deserves better than what it receives.”
Republicans have not won a statewide race since Mr. Jodi Rell was elected governor in 2006. A brief GOP resurgence from 2010 to 2016 collapsed in the midterm elections of 2018, when the party could not overcome the unpopularity of President Donald J. Trump.
This year, Republicans insist that President Joe Biden’s unpopularity has created an opening for Stefanowski, whose disinterest in politics before 2018 was measured in his inability to vote for 16 years, not voting in 2016. for Trump or Hillary Clinton.
“We have 185 days left, ladies and gentlemen, to win this thing,” Stefanowski said. “Let’s not look back. Don’t leave anything on the ground. Have no regrets. Let’s be aggressive. Let’s be honest. Let’s be fair.
Stefanowski had a long career in corporate finance, with stints at GE and UBS. But his last job was one that caused problems in 2018 and will continue to do so: he was the CEO of a global payday loan company whose product line is illegal to offer in Connecticut.
Stefanowski’s campaign four years ago was that of an insurgent, a political unknown who showed up in early TV ads, skipped the GOP convention and demanded his place in a five-way primary.
“What a difference four years makes,” he said, smiling.
He arrived in Mashantucket, home of Foxwoods and the Mashantucket Pequot reservation, knowing the nomination was his, though it was briefly delayed by Susan Patricelli Regan, a marketing executive who had spent around $7,500 in a Don Quixote effort to lead the party.
The tally was 1,130 to 36.
Stefanowski said he didn’t mind waiting.