Political jockeying starts before debate opens

September 13, 2018

NEW LONDON — Tensions between the camps of Republican Bob Stefanowski and Democrat Ned Lamont reached a head before the candidates for governor even made it to the stage.

A dark and drizzly afternoon didn’t deter dozens of members from the state’s public employee unions from rallying in front of the Garde Arts Center for two hours leading up to the first debate between the two candidates.

They were met in full force by Stefanowski’s supporters who, though fewer in number, were just as loud. By 6 p.m., at least one fight had broken out.

State Republican chairman J.R. Romano and Lori Pelletier, president of the Connecticut AFL-CIO, were at the center of the scrum, apparently attempting to de-escalate the situation, as former Republican U.S. Senate Candidate Dominic Rapini shouted for Stefanowski supporters to back up.

When one side shouted, “B.S. Bob,” the other responded with, “Retread Ned,” ultimately summing up the discourse between Stefanowski and Lamont, who just days after the primary dubbed each other, “Trumpanowski” and “Ned Malloy.”

Introduced by Kevin Lembo, who is running for re-election as state Comptroller, and a band of bagpipers, Lamont addressed his supporters in the street ahead of the debate.

“I’m all in for the next four years,” he said, before being drowned out by his own supporters as well as Stefanowski’s.

The New London debate is known for attracting a lively crowd ahead of divisive political debates. Several union members recalled participating in similar rallies ahead of debates between Republican Tom Foley and Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, as well as a debate between Linda McMahon, who ran on the Republican ticket for U.S. Senate, against Democrat Sen. Chris Murphy.

Sponsored by the New London-based paper The Day and WTNH, the Wednesday debate marks the first head-to-head match-up between Stefanowski and Lamont, who have been trading insults online and in advertising since the Aug. 14 primary.

Stefanowski and Lamont are slated to participate in four more debates prior to the November election.

Independent candidate Oz Griebel was not invited to be part of Wednesday’s debate despite a plea to the Texas-based parent company of WTNH, which set the parameters for participation.

kkrasselt@hearstmediact.com; 203-842-2563; @kaitlynkrasselt

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