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Connecticut GOP fires the first salvo in the 2022 gubernatorial campaign

Conn. Gov. Ned Lamont
Jessica Hill
Conn. Gov. Ned Lamont

Connecticut Democratic Governor Ned Lamont is seeking reelection to a second term this year. Republicans have yet to pick a candidate to run against him. But they’ve started the year by attacking Lamont’s handling of the state’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Republicans launched a digital attack ad this week that attempts to tie Lamont’s COVID-19 response to that of former New York Governor Andrew Cuomo. The New York policy resulted in a high number of deaths at nursing homes in 2020.

“Ned Lamont’s response to COVID put Connecticut in danger. He sought the guidance of ex-Governor Cuomo,” said the ad, “resulting in the tri-state area having the highest death rate in the nation.”

It goes on to attack Lamont for awarding state COVID-19 testing contracts to companies that had been associated with his wife’s venture capital firm Oak HC. It also lambasts him for problems the state had securing at-home test kits during the holidays.

Lamont dismissed the GOP attacks.

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

“Republicans can win with a positive message. But going after Lamont’s character and tying him to the New York governor, I think that is going to prove to be an ineffective strategy,” said Gary Rose, a political scientist and head of the Department of Government at Sacred Heart University.

He said the GOP does have effective issues they could go after Lamont on.

“I believe that Republicans can relate the inflation issue to Governor Lamont. And then taxes are still very high in Connecticut. Property taxes are among the highest in the country. On top of that we have the ongoing transportation problems here in Connecticut which have never been resolved. And the crime wave that is hitting Connecticut. A lot of stolen cars. A lot of juvenile crime and so forth,” he said.

The GOP might want to tie Lamont to Cuomo but the Democrats will surely want to tie whoever emerges as the Republican candidate for governor to former President Donald Trump, said Quinnipiac University political scientist Scott McLean.

“Democrats will demand that Republican candidates admit that Biden won the election fair and square. And they will use the answer that they give against them. Whether it's yes Biden did win, or yes it was a fraudulent election. Either way the Democrats are going to use that as a weapon against the Republican candidate for governor,” he said.

But for now, it's a good political move for the GOP to try to take on Lamont’s response to COVID-19, which has been his strongest polling issue in the past year, said McLean. Lamont had 67% approval in a Sacred Heart University poll last November.

“We have to realize come spring, come the time we get to primaries and conventions, Omicron is going to be just a bad memory and I think that the playing field would tilt towards Lamont once again,” McLean said, though that remains to be seen.

Contenders for the Republican Party nomination include businessman Bob Stefanowksi, who lost to Lamont in the last race, and former House Minority Leader Themis Klarides, who retired from the General Assembly last year.

The party conventions are in May, the primaries are in August, and Election Day is Nov. 8.

As WSHU Public Radio’s award-winning senior political reporter, Ebong Udoma draws on his extensive tenure to delve deep into state politics during a major election year.