FRONT PAGE CONTRIBUTOR
Move Connecticut Right
In Connecticut, in order to win the Lieutenant Governor nomination, a candidate has to make it out of the party convention with at least 15% of the vote. Then, the candidate has to win a primary.
Currently, there are three candidates in contention for the Lieutenant Governor nomination heading into the convention, which will take place on May 17: Penny Bacchiochi, Heather Somers and David Walker. By rights, Bacchiochi should be the winner of the convention, and Walker should fail to make the cut. But conventions are, of course, somewhat unpredictable, and if Bacchiochi doesn’t win the Republican nomination, it could have big consequences for the state GOP’s prospects this November.
Bacchiochi is pretty conservative for Connecticut. She is a fiscal and limited government conservative, who has served in the state legislature for six terms. Every year since 2007, she has offered and voted for budgets that do not increase taxes. She serves in House Republican leadership. She beat an incumbent Democrat her first time running for her seat, becoming the first Republican and the first woman to represent her district in decades. Her district leans Democratic, so Bacchiochi knows how to win in environments that are not inherently friendly to Republicans (relevant in a statewide race in Connecticut). She has deep Connecticut roots, is a graduate of the University of Connecticut, owns and runs a business. She also has six sons, and is married to a Nigerian immigrant.
Bacchiochi has been endorsed by the Connecticut College Republicans and 26-year-old New Britain mayor Erin Stewart, which suggests she may be able to appeal to younger voters better than other Republicans. She has a record number of endorsements from fellow state legislators, demonstrating her appeal across the conservative coalition. She is also endorsed by the Coalition of Connecticut Sportsmen for her strong support of the Second Amendment. She has support across the state, which is important given the occasional regional divides in Connecticut GOP politics. She has, as of mid-April, raised more campaign funds than the other Republican Lieutenant Governor candidates, – banking $100,000, with more still flowing in. Also, for some delegates, it matters that she is a she – fair or not, Connecticut Republicans seem to have fared better when there is a woman on the Governor-Lieutenant Governor ticket, and the last Republican governor was a woman.
Walker, the other candidate who has been attracting a lot of attention in this race, has his base in Fairfield County (where he now lives, having bought former Rep. Chris Shays’ house in 2009). He has held a number of federal government appointments in Washington, D.C., including in the Bush 41 and Clinton administrations. He has also been involved with the No Labels movement and was the CEO of the Comeback America Initiative. In principle, this sounds impressive, but there are a few aspects of Walker’s record that are giving Connecticut Republicans significant pause and should, all things being equal, present a challenge for Walker during the convention.
First, Walker deregistered as a Republican before joining the Clinton administration, supposedly in order to serve in the federal government roles he worked in. However, many question whether this was really necessary, or if the disaffiliation was more a reflection of Walker’s personal philosophical shifts than any job requirement. That might explain his involvement with No Labels and claims that he did not re-register as a Republican until quite recently. Some Walker foes are claiming he is still not registered as a Republican, which I have not been able to confirm, but which if true would be troubling for a number of delegates.
Second, his involvement with No Labels rubs a number of conservatives and the party faithful the wrong way.
Third, the Comeback America Initiative that he founded and ran as CEO advocated for letting all the Bush/Obama tax cuts expire, raising the capital gains tax rate, instituting the Buffett Rule, keeping the estate tax on the books, temporary tax increases and more federal health care spending.
Fourth, Walker has been attacking his female opponents fairly relentlessly, suggesting they are unqualified for office and have no experience when in one case, the qualifications and experience mentioned above clearly apply, and in the other, the candidate also has experience in Connecticut government and in business. This not only smacks of sexism that some Republicans fear could give Democrats room to attack Walker using the “War on Women” line quite effectively should he be nominated. This also underlines that his experience in government is Washington, D.C., Beltway-based, as opposed to Connecticut-based. Since the job he’s running for is based in Hartford and all about Connecticut government, that may be a challenge for him. In short, there are questions about whether, if nominated, Walker could appeal across the state, attract the votes of conservatives in the state (as distinct from the votes of Democrats and Independents, which any GOP candidate will need to get a share of in order to win), and whether he would be particularly susceptible to the Democrats’ attacks while offering Republicans little to get excited about.
Somers, the third candidate, seems to be regarded as a better choice than Walker by delegates, but her experience is at the very local level, which may not suit the Lieutenant Governor’s role as well as Bacchiochi’s experience does. There are also some questions about fiscal decisions in her town under her tenure as mayor (she appears to have raised property taxes and run budget deficits).
The bottom line here is that Bacchiochi looks like the strongest choice for the Republican Lieutenant Governor nomination. A far stronger choice than Walker, about whom much Beltway buzz has focused. Convention delegates should compare and contrast these two candidates before the convention. There’s a good reason to believe that Bacchiochi, the most conservative candidate in this race and can win in November. While Bacchiochi is not as conservative as candidates RedState supports in actual red states, she would move Connecticut government in a positive direction while potentially expanding the party’s appeal and presenting a fresh face that differs from what many people inside and outside the state tend to think of when they imagine a “Republican.”