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Primary day signals Connecticut GOP's shift toward Trump

Jessica Hill
A voter checks in at Suffield Middle School on primary election day, Tuesday, Aug. 9, 2022, in Suffield, Conn. Suffield is one of several small towns in Connecticut where control was flipped from Democrats to Republicans in 2021 municipal races.

Republican Leora Levy’s surprise win in her party’s primary for U.S. Senate in Connecticut has put former President Donald Trump front and center in the November election. Democrats see this as an advantage, including Governor Ned Lamont, who is vying for re-election.

Lamont said Levy’s win over a moderate Republican in the low turnout, three-way primary election opens an opportunity for Democrats. He said the unaffiliated voters and the 80% of Republicans who didn’t show up in the primary could be wooed by Democrats in November.

“This is a new Republican party," said Lamont on Wednesday during a campaign event to blast the GOP. "I think they are leaving a lot of the moderates. They are leaving a lot of the independents. They are leaving a lot of folks who believe in core Connecticut values by the wayside. We are not going to let that happen.”

Lamont accused his GOP gubernatorial opponent Bob Stefanowksi of also being tied to Trump.

“You can’t have it both ways," he said. "You’ve got to be consistent in life. Four years ago, he was a loud Trumpster, now he’s trying to reinvent himself as Jeb Bush. Four years ago, Leora Levy was a strong Jeb Bush supporter, now she’s reinventing to be a Trumpster.”

Stefanowski has not been endorsed by Trump, but he did get the former president’s support in 2018 when he lost the contest for governor to Lamont. So far, Stefanowski has tried to distance himself from national Republican themes.

His campaign has pushed recent ads touting his support for abortion rights: “In the race for governor both Ned Lamont and Bob Stefanowski are pro-choice, the difference is affordability."

Enough to beat Blumenthal?

Levy, a member of the National Republican Commitee, has fully embraced the MAGA movement and opposes abortion rights and gun restrictions. A week before the primary, Trump endorsed Levy and campaigned with her the night before the election, possibly changing the energy at the polls.

“You know I thank him for having my back and I would always have his," Levy thanked Trump in her victory speech.

She upset the primary by beating the state Republican Party’s choice of Themis Klarides, a former state House Minority leader who is a supporter of abortions.

Gary Rose, a political scientist at Sacred Heart University, said her Trump endorsement might not play well with the moderate Republicans and unaffiliated voters that Levy needs to win in November.

“I think it’s very difficult to do in light of the issues that she’s articulated," he said. "That to me is going to be a fascinating thing to watch.’

Less than 20% of registered Republicans participated in the primary that Levy won, according to Rose . Now, Levy said she will need the party to get behind her to beat incumbent Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal.

“We must unify in order to end the Biden-Blumenthal blight here in Connecticut,” she said.

Connecticut has not had a Republican U.S. Senator in three decades. Trump won 39% of the state’s vote in the 2020 presidential election.

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.