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Stefanowski’s non-campaign

October 7, 2018

Invitations have gone out for a high-priced fundraiser dinner at the Steak Loft restaurant in Mystic on Oct. 17 to help Republican gubernatorial candidate Bob Stefanowski get through the closing couple of weeks of the campaign.

This is the sort of thing typically seen in Fairfield County, where the pockets are deeper and Republicans more dominant. For the two-hour affair, 5 to 7 p.m., Stefanowski is asking 2,500 if you want to serve as a host of the event, and $3,500 if you want to be a “Victory Team” sponsor.

Listed on the invitation are several prominent local Republican businessmen — all men — who ask that their fellow wealthy Stefanowski supporters join them in “honoring” the GOP candidate.

I tried to reach some of them, curious how they viewed the level of support for Stefanowski in our region and what about his candidacy, and the prospects for Republican control of the governor’s chair, has them ready to make a substantial investment.

Most of my calls and emails were ignored, which is odd

There was one exception: Attorney John J. Nazzaro.

In 2007, Republican Governor M. Jodi Rell appointed Nazzaro as a Superior Court judge. In 2016, Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy reappointed him. Nazzaro soon after stepped down to rejoin the Reardon Law Firm in New London, where he had previously practiced.

I tried to ask my questions, none exactly hard hitting. How did Nazzaro view the prospects for Stefanowski in our area? What significance did he attach to the candidate holding a big local fundraiser?

“The invitation speaks for itself,” he said. And, when I tried again, “No comment.”

From experience, I would have expected quickly returned calls to praise the candidate and make the case for him. Perhaps politics have become so hyper-partisan that these professionals wanted to keep their distance even while opening their wallets.

Stefanowski is certainly running a nontraditional race. While the campaign of his Democratic opponent, Ned Lamont, is constantly reporting on his planned public appearances in hopes of attracting attention, Stefanowski’s campaign does little of that, seemingly with the intention of limiting his exposure to reporters.

The Day Editorial Board has Lamont scheduled for a meeting and has met twice with the independent candidate, Oz Griebel. So far the Stefanowski campaign has ignored our invitations.

I did not get a return call from the campaign for this column.

Why isn’t Stefanowski plowing these fertile fields? The region has been moving right in recent elections. In the 20th District, once held by Democratic Sen. Andrea Stillman, Republican Paul Formica is seeking a third term, challenged by Democrat Martha Marx.

Two years ago Republican Sen. Heather Somers captured the 18th District seat formerly held by Democrat Andrew Maynard. Somers is now involved in a tough race with Democrat Robert Statchen.

Gaining those seats was critical to the Republicans earning an 18-18 split in the Senate and retaining them will be necessary if the GOP has any hope of capturing the Senate. Formica’s seat is likely safe, but Somers’ district can tilt either way.

Critical, too, is the race for the Senate seat held by Sen. Art Linares. He made an unsuccessful attempt for the Republican nomination for treasurer. Essex First Selectman Norm Needleman, a Democrat, faces Republican state Rep. Melissa H. Ziobron in the 34th District race.

Stefanowski should be campaigning with the Republican Senate candidates in these critical races. But there has been little of that, too. According to the Somers campaign, she has not had — and does not have — any planned public appearances with Stefanowski. Ziobron said she strolled the Hamburg and Haddam Neck fairs with Stefanowski. That’s it.

Conversely, Lamont has campaigned with Statchen in opposition to the state police shooting range planned in Griswold and in support of policies intended to feed the job pipeline at Electric Boat with local workers. Lamont stumped with Needleman in Clinton to criticize the Trump tariffs as endangering Connecticut jobs.

J.R. Romano, the Republican chairman, told me Stefanowski has been campaigning in the 2nd Congressional District — “a very large district” — though perhaps not so much down our way. And he fully expects the “hard-working people of eastern Connecticut” to support the Republican brand and a candidate, Stefanowski, who promises to ease a tax burden “that is crushing them.”

Times have changed, what with social media and the perfecting of the attack ad. But a candidate still has to campaign, particularly a Republican hoping to win in Connecticut. Stefanowski has four weeks left to step it up or, for Republicans, this will prove another opportunity lost.

Paul Choiniere is the editorial page editor.

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