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Leora Levy is campaigning while avoiding Trump's shadow

Leora Levy, who was endorsed by Donald Trump in early August, has been campaigning under the shadow of the former president. Will the added attention help or hinder her as she faces incumbent Senator Richard Blumenthal?

WSHU’s Ebong Udoma spoke with CT Mirror’s Lisa Hagen to discuss her article, “Leora Levy: Donald Trump ‘not on the ballot’ despite endorsement,” as part of the collaborative podcast Long Story Short.

WSHU: Lisa, could you just tell us a little bit about Leora Levy and how she got the Trump endorsement to start off with?

LH: Yes, it's been a pretty long evolution in terms of Leora Levy’s support for former President Donald Trump. And so kind of quickly going back to 2016. She was a Jeb Bush supporter, and was frankly very critical of Donald Trump, wrote a very scathing op-ed about him. And then after Bush drops out, gets on to Senator Ted Cruz's campaign, and then eventually becomes a supporter of Donald Trump. And so the two of them have been, you know, friendly and supportive of each other for several years now. And so pretty much we get to 2022, we are several days out from the August primary in Connecticut, and Trump basically does a surprise endorsement and calls her and does a tele-rally with her just the night before the primary and she wins by a really decisive margin. So quite a long journey over the last six years.

WSHU: That was a well publicized endorsement. She was talking to her supporters. And Trump was on the phone?

LH: Yes, he calls her, she's actually with other candidates, because it's not a Leora Levy campaign event. And so her rivals are sitting in the audience. He calls her and she puts him on speakerphone and he talks to the crowd they before the primary.

WSHU: Leora Levy says that she pretty much endorses the MAGA. But she's not talking up Trump right now. Could you just explain? You went out to a campaign event that she was at, how did she handle that?

LH: Yeah, so exactly. To your point. She's not really talking about him currently, unless prompted. I went with her out into Terryville. There is a big fair that's there every year where political candidates will go out, especially in an election year. And so she's mostly just talking about herself. She's talking about personal connections with people. She's talking about Senator Blumenthal who she's running against and trying to unseat him, and talking about policies related to her, but not really talking about the former president. And so quite a distinction just from last month when she won the endorsement. And now we're in the general election, and she’s not really bringing up former President Trump unless someone brings it up to her.

WSHU: Do people talk about Trump when she's campaigning at all?

LH: At least when I was with her at the Terryville Fair, he didn't come up very often. And she had pointed that out to me because I had asked her if he would be potentially a drag on moderate voters who are not, you know, supporters of Donald Trump, and that would hurt her. And so, to her point, voters are not always asking her about that. But to be fair, we were in an area that went heavily for Trump in 2016 and 2020. And then an area that was also very friendly to her she won, the Plymouth Terryville area by a pretty big margin in the August primary.

WSHU: Now incumbent Democrat Richard Blumenthal has been a fixture on the political scene in Connecticut for decades. How does Levy take on Blumenthal? What is she doing to try to unseat him?

LH: She's constantly referring to him, as other Republicans do, as a career politician. As you said he's been around for decades, this would be his third term if he wins in the US Senate. But beyond that, he's been in Connecticut, going back into the 80s. And in terms of more state politics, she's been in Republican politics in the state for a while as a political fundraiser, but she had never run for elected office before. So she is trying to say, I am a fresh face and say that we need change in Washington DC.

WSHU: Beyond talking about being a fresh face, what issues particularly are she focused on right now?

LH: A lot of what we're seeing across the country, Republicans want to focus on the economy. It's something that they feel is a very strong issue for them since we've seen high inflation, high gas prices, a lot of that is coming down, but we still have two more months. And so Republicans are definitely focusing on the economy, lower taxes, supporting law enforcement, so a lot of the boilerplate things we see Republicans talk about. for her specifically though, and maybe a little bit more so than some other candidates, though Stefanowski has kind of gone in that direction, is talking about conservative bias talking about, as she calls it, interference of the government in schools and how they're educating students. And so she used that opportunity when the Project Veritas came in and had that video of that assistant principal in Connecticut in Grenwitch specifically talking about vetting, you know, potential job candidates based on whether they're conservative or they're Catholic. So that is more of a social issue that Republicans at large are talking about, and something that she's definitely using in her specific campaign in Connecticut.

WSHU: Also abortion rights are a big issue in this campaign. The Democrats are really pushing the Supreme Court decision to overturn Roe, and the fact that Republicans support that. How is Leora Levy handling that? Because I believe her opponent is pushing that pretty hard.

LH: Yes, he as well as Democrats nationally, are very much talking about abortion rights, and being very supportive of it. Like a lot of Republicans, Levy is someone who doesn't support that. She makes exceptions for rape and incest and when the life is in danger, but she is she is someone who, at least potentially up to a decade ago, was more supportive of abortion rights, and has moved over the years. And so it's kind of evolved a lot as well.

WSHU: So bottom line as she campaigns into the fall, is Trump going to play a role in this or can it be avoided?

LH: That is the big question. So what Levy is saying is that, you know, that is all up to him. He is on his own schedule. She is running her own race. So we might see a bit of a different general election campaign in terms of how Trump is involved than we did in the primary.

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.
Molly is a reporter covering Connecticut. She also produces Long Story Short, a podcast exploring public policy issues across Connecticut.