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Stefanowski zings Lamont in Facebook ad; GOP hits harder on Twitter

Jessica Hill
Bob Stefanowski, left, and Ned Lamont during the 2018 campaign for Connecticut governor.

The Connecticut Republican Party attacked Gov. Ned Lamont’s integrity and his management of the COVID-19 pandemic Monday with an inexpensive digital ad geared at garnering free exposure in press coverage and on social media.

The ad released on Twitter comes in what otherwise is a lull before the 2022 campaign begins in earnest: Lamont declared his candidacy two months ago, but the Democrat has yet to create a campaign website or hire a communications staff.

Bob Stefanowski, the 2018 Republican nominee, recently posted a Facebook ad that echoes one element of the GOP ad — tying Lamont and his COVID nursing home policies to the disgraced former New York governor, Andrew Cuomo.

“Do you think Office of Governor Ned Lamont should be asking nursing homes to accept hospital patients infected with COVID 19 like Andrew Cuomo did in New York?” Stefanowski’s ad asked.

With a prominent misspelling, the party’s 30-second Twitter ad asserted, “He saught [sic] the guidance of Ex-Governor Cuomo.” A corrected version was posted about 9:20 p.m. Monday, and the original Tweet posted before 11 a.m. was deleted.

Stefanowski has yet to create a candidate committee, but the Facebook ad posted over the weekend, as well as an op-ed piece he published Sunday in The Hartford Courant, seem to point to a coming announcement.

A potential rival, former House Republican Leader Themis Klarides, spent nearly $200,000 on preliminary campaign activities in the three months ending Dec. 31, according to a report filed Monday.

Klarides now has spent $393,835 and incurred another $12,400 in bills. She has registered as a candidate, a preliminary step that allows her to spend her own money but not begin fundraising.

Stefanowski did not respond Monday to requests for comment by text or phone. Since he is not yet a candidate, he does not have to disclose his spending. His Facebook ad, which stated it was bought by him personally, was a much milder version of the GOP Twitter ad that was linked to a fundraising page.

The state party blamed Lamont for fatalities and accused him of corruption, a reference to a contract for COVID testing that went to Sema4, a company in which his wife’s venture capital firm had invested.

“He also chose to line the pockets of his wife’s firm rather than protecting the people of Connecticut,” the GOP ad said.

In the earlier months of the pandemic, when testing capacity was scarce, the state gave contracts to each of the four certified labs who responded to the state’s RFP. Sema4 was one of them.

The ad was produced by the GOP’s digital ad vendor, TAG Strategies of Alexandria, Va. Republican State Chair Ben Proto called the ad a “marker” of the themes the party intended to develop.

“We’ll keep putting markers down,” Proto said.

The party would spend a nominal sum promoting the ad on social media and, possibly, YouTube, he said.

Dan Morrocco, the governor’s campaign manager, dismissed the ad as rife with falsehoods.

“Instead of lying about COVID to raise campaign money, the GOP should join Governor Lamont in working to end this pandemic by promoting vaccines and boosters so we can continue to educate our children, grow our economy, and keep Connecticut moving forward,” he said.

At a press briefing, Lamont called the ad a cheap shot that politicized a pandemic.

“We are in a war against an invisible enemy — COVID. Usually, when a state, a country, are in a war, they rally together and they speak with one voice. And we don’t take cheap political shots, not when we are trying to get everybody through a tense situation,” Lamont said.

Lamont, who self-funded his 2018 campaign and intends to do the same this year, put $210,000 into his campaign, according to a report filed Monday night. His biggest expense was $48,500 for polling by Global Strategy.

Lt. Gov. Susan Bysiewicz, who announced her reelection plans the same day as Lamont, reported raising $110,795, a hedge against a challenge for the nomination. Governors and their running mates run separately for the nomination, but as a team in the general election.

Competition for Secretary of the State nominations

For down-ballot candidates, the reports filed Monday are early opportunities to demonstrate a base of support. Competition is strongest for secretary of the state, an open race due to Denise Merrill not seeking a fourth term.

The only declared candidates for the fundraising period reported raising similar amounts:

  • Rep. Stephanie Thomas, D-Norwalk, raised $31,336.
  • Republicans Dominic Rapini and Brock Webber raised, respectively, $26,273 and $29,509.

In their second quarter as candidates, Rapini now has raised $47,311; Webber, $52,444.

A half dozen Democrats interested in the nomination raised varying amounts in exploratory campaigns.

  • Rob Simmelkjaer of Westport, the chair of the CT Lottery board of directors, raised $24,965.
  • Darryl Brackeen Jr., a New Haven alder, raised $4,310 in the quarter, bringing his total to $15,021.
  • Maritza Bond, a top public health official in New Haven, raised $30,180 in the quarter, bringing her total to $36,100
  • Sen. Matt Lesser of Middletown raised $14,976 in the quarter, bringing  his total to $42,275.
  • Rep. Josh Elliott of Hamden raised $18,930 in the quarter, bringing his total to $21,588.
  • Rep. Hilda Santiago of Meriden raised $18,105 in her final quarter as an exploratory candidate, bringing her total to $26,840. Santiago reported raising another $9,669 since coverting her exploratory effort to a candidate committee.