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Connecticut candidates double their campaign spending in gubernatorial rematch

Conn. Gov. Ned Lamont
Jessica Hill

Governor Ned Lamont and challenger Bob Stefanowski are on track to double their 2018 campaign spending during their 2022 rematch. What will the final weeks of their campaign look like?

WSHU’s Ebong Udoma spoke with CT Mirror’s Mark Pazniokas to discuss his article, “Lamont, Stefanowski on pace to double spending in rematch,” as part of the collaborative podcast Long Story Short.

WSHU: So Mark, what are Lamont and Stefanowski focused on as they begin the final 30 day sprint to election day?

MP: Well, Governor Lamont is operating on two tracks. On television he is still trying to win over that dwindling pool of undecided voters. And in his campaigning, particularly on the weekends where he is in democratic cities, he's really focused on making sure Democrats turn out to vote. He's doing digital ads that say make a plan for voting. These are all the signs of somebody who has some significant built-in advantages over his Republican challenger. The governor is riding high in the polls, he has a good approval rating. He is not wanting for campaign funding.

The fundamentals in Connecticut always favor the Democrats. There are more Democrats than Republicans and Democrats hold every congressional and statewide office. And that's an advantage, particularly when the Democrats tend to work as a team, particularly on the question of getting out to vote.

WSHU: It has been close in past races in Connecticut.

MP: Yes.

WSHU: So he's not home free?

MP: No, not by any means. Connecticut, like many New England states, you do see ticket splitting, particularly with gubernatorial races. Three of the most popular governors in the United States are Republicans in New England. And in Connecticut, there has not been a landslide win since Jodi Rell in 2006. Dan Malloy won by a very close margin in 2010. His reelection was close. And Ned Lamont’s election four years ago was also close, by about 3.2 percentage points. So that's why Republicans, you know, tend to have hope that this is the one seat that they still seem to be competitive for in statewide races.

WSHU: So how's Stefanowski dealing with this, how is he handling it? What's his strategy?

MP: Stefanowski’s challenge is still to create a clear impression of who he is, and what he would do if elected, even though this is a rematch and he ran in 2018. The polling shows a significant number of voters who really still do not have an impression, have no opinion of Bob Stefanowski. One of the challenges he has, and this is difficult, he has to be on the attack. Yet, he wants to be seen as upbeat, of having a vision for Connecticut, and it's hard to do those two things simultaneously.

Lamont — the polls indicate — and anybody who's observed Lamont understands that he is essentially an optimist. He jokes a lot about being compared to Ted Lasso, the eternally optimistic character on television. And Stefanowski recognizes that, you see it in some of his campaign events. He says, 'Hey, I'm an optimist, too. I'm just a realistic optimist.' But that's really been the challenge for Stefanowski, to have to simultaneously tear down an incumbent and build up yourself, and that's always somewhat of a tricky thing.

WSHU: Now, what is his money situation? How is he doing as far as raising money for his campaign? Is he keeping up with Lamont?

MP: He's doing much better than he did four years ago. Both major party candidates are largely self-funded. Stefanowski is raising more money from others than Lamont. As of the report that came out late Tuesday night, Stefanowski has raised a total of $1.4 million from others, while the governor is something under a half million. Stefanowski deposited $10 million of his own funds into his campaign early on, and that compares to $3.3 million, four years ago.

Stefanowski had a very good three or four years after his last election, he made somewhere north of $36 million in a three year period doing consulting for folks. He has not identified his clients, citing non-disclosure agreements. But in any event, Stefanowski has done well in the last three years. And that's why, you know, that's one reason I would say why he has tripled his personal contribution from 2018. He's at 10 million as opposed to 3.3 million.

WSHU: Now talking about trying to sell his image to the voters in Connecticut, I noticed an ad that Stefanowski just ran, which has him with his two daughters, trying to humanize him. Could you just tell us a little bit about the ad and what he's trying to do with that?

MP: Sure. And that is an ad that even Democrats quietly telling me they think is a very effective ad, perhaps Bob Stefanowski's best ad of this election cycle. So the ad features two of his three daughters and his wife, and it responds to a Democratic Governors Association super PAC ad that portrays Bob Stefanowski as "too extreme for Connecticut.” So the ad is upbeat, it is positive, but it shows a recognition that he has a problem.

He suffers from a huge gender gap among women, a 30 point gender gap that Lamont enjoys. The basic dynamics of the race are Stefanowski and Lamont are roughly dividing the male vote. But then as we see, in more recent races, women are going big for Democrats. In part, you know, it's the Dobbs case, which overturned Roe v. Wade, and put abortion back on the front burner as far as contemporary politics.

So you saw that in the ad, he did it in a very playful way, where one of his daughters said, 'Hey, dad, you're pro-choice, dad, you're pro women's health.' So they did it with humor, it's just coming kind of late in the cycle. You know, at some point in October the cake is baked. It doesn't mean you can't change things. It does mean, it's harder to move people. There are fewer undecided voters at this point and trying to grab them away from the other guy is not easy.

WSHU: What about Stefanowski’s events? What type of events is he doing as he heads towards the close of this campaign?

MP: Well he's still not regularly informing the process of what he's doing. He's certainly out there all the time. You see it on Facebook, you see it in his Twitter feed.

WSHU: And he has a bus that he's driving?

MP: Yes, so he rented an RV. And he did a three-day, 30 community tour of Connecticut. And he said he slept in the RV at night. I know the first night, they parked in a Chili's parking lot in Cromwell. And it was driven by his campaign manager, who is a firefighter in Stanford and has a commercial driving license, so he was driving this rig. So again, he's trying to lighten up a little bit. But again, you get to this point in the cycle, it gets harder and harder to find folks who have not made up their mind.

WSHU: Okay, so what are you looking out for in the next few days as we close this campaign?

MP: Well, in this race again, is there anything new? Is there a new line of attack on the part of Stefanowski? He has used inflation, he has argued that crime is out of control, even though the FBI statistics indicate that Connecticut is still in its long decline as far as crime. There was a fairly steep decline in reported violent crime in 2021. But you know, you certainly see Stefanowski on his Twitter feed, every time there's a violent crime that makes the news he's saying, 'aha.' And again, as we talked about earlier, that's one of his challenges of not being overly dark. And he is really trying to convince voters that Connecticut is a scary place. It's an unsafe place. And it's a place where inflation is the fault of a governor as opposed to national and international trends and dynamics.

WSHU: So it's a tough sell. Considering that the state is doing quite well, as far as the state coffers are concerned right now. It is hard to say that. You know, that we need better financial control when we have a surplus.

MP: Well, there's been a role reversal. The Democrats are taking what historically had been the Republican position, which is we have to prepare for recession, we have to have significant budget reserves. Bob Stefanowski has been insisting that the state spend down a good portion of those reserves, which would leave the state more vulnerable to recession and he also has suggested that instead of paying down the unfunded pension liability, that again some of that money go to immediate tax relief.

That's one of the other advantages that Mr. Lamont has: he is presiding over a fiscal situation where the state, for the first time in a long time, has had a string of budgets with surpluses. And because of some fiscal reforms that were done in concert with the Republicans in 2017, there's something called a volatility cap. Connecticut, when things are going well, because we rely on the income tax, including Wall Street money, what's going on in Wall Street as far as investment income, we tend to have these huge swings. When things are good, things are very good. And when things are bad, they're very bad. And that's why Connecticut does have this volatility cap. And that's why the governor is saying we need to hold more money in reserve, if there is a significant recession just over the horizon.

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.