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Trump-endorsed Levy wins Connecticut GOP Senate primary

Republican U.S. Senate candidate Leora Levy holds her phone to a podium microphone to broadcast to supporters at her election night watch party a live congratulatory phone call from former president Donald Trump. Levy defeated Themis Klarides in tonight’s primary and will face incumbent U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal.
Mark Mirko
Connecticut Public
Republican U.S. Senate candidate Leora Levy holds her phone to a microphone to broadcast to supporters at her election night watch party a live congratulatory phone call from former president Donald Trump. Levy defeated Themis Klarides in Tuesday's primary and will face incumbent U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal.

It turns out the endorsement of former President Donald Trump mattered more to Republican voters in Connecticut than the endorsement of their own state party.

As primary voters went to the polls Tuesday to pick a challenger to run against Democratic incumbent Sen. Richard Blumenthal, the Trump-backed candidate, Leora Levy, was victorious in an upset over former state House Minority Leader Themis Klarides and attorney Peter Lumaj.

Klarides had extensive experience in elected office and had been one of the most prominent elected GOP officials in Connecticut.

The Associated Press called the race for Levy at 10:49 p.m.

“Today, voters across Connecticut sent a clear message that they are ready for a political outsider to fight for the families, taxpayers, small businesses and the hardworking people of our great state,” Levy said in an e-mailed statement.

Trump called Levy Tuesday night to congratulate her on the victory.

Levy, a first-time candidate who lent her campaign more than $1 million, touted her backing from Trump as proof that she is a “true America-first patriot.” She is a GOP fundraiser and former commodities trader.

Trump endorsed Levy just last week. On Monday, Trump joined Levy on a phone call, expressing his support for her on the same day his Mar-a-Lago estate was searched by the FBI as part of an investigation into whether he took classified records from the White House to his Florida residence.

Levy appeared stunned by Tuesday night’s victory when she appeared before a cheering crowd of supporters in her hometown of Greenwich.

She told supporters that vaccine requirements are an attack on parents’ rights, said she wants to build a wall and use electronic surveillance on the U.S.-Mexico border, and said she wants to stop transgender students from competing in girls sports.

“We’re making history here. It’s really exciting,” she said.

Levy thanked Trump for his endorsement.

“I will not let you down,” she said. “Thank you for having my back.”

‘We got our feet knocked out from under us’

U.S. Senate GOP Candidate Themis Klarides heads to the podium after conceding her senate primary race to Senate candidate Leora Levy in Middletown, Connecticut August 09, 2022.
Joe Amon
Connecticut Public
U.S. Senate GOP candidate Themis Klarides heads to the podium after conceding her primary race to candidate Leora Levy in Middletown, Connecticut, Aug. 9, 2022.
Themis Klarides concedes, thanks supporters

At Klarides headquarters in Middletown, the mood was never light. And for more than two hours, Klarides was behind a closed office door as dour-faced aides and supporters came in and out.

Unofficial results showed her struggling to get within 10% of Levy. Eventually, she came out and told supporters what they could already feel. She had lost and she had conceded. Then, she thanked her supporters.

“They put their blood, sweat and tears into this race because they believed that we have a path to make Connecticut better, to give Connecticut representation that it has so sorely lost with Dick Blumenthal in office,” Klarides said.

Then, she was quietly whisked from the room by her handlers without taking questions. But Holly Cheeseman took a few. She’s a Republican state representative for East Lyme and Salem.

“We got our feet knocked out from under us,” Cheeseman said.

She said Klarides had electability and gave Republicans a chance to win in November. She doubted if Levy could do the same.

“I think it’s going to be very difficult in a state like Connecticut, that President Biden won by, I believe, more than 20 points, for her to craft a path to victory,” Cheeseman said.

And as for that Trump endorsement? She says it may have helped Levy. But she also thinks the FBI’s raid on the former president’s home rallied Levy’s supporters to the polls.

The general election is Nov. 8.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

Note: Themis Klarides is married to Gregory B. Butler, who is a member of Connecticut Public's Board of Trustees.

Updated: August 10, 2022 at 12:51 AM EDT
This post has been updated.
Jeff Cohen started in newspapers in 2001 and joined Connecticut Public in 2010, where he worked as a reporter and fill-in host. In 2017, he was named news director. Then, in 2022, he became a senior enterprise reporter.
Matt Dwyer is an editor, reporter and midday host for Connecticut Public's news department. He produces local news during All Things Considered.
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