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Steve Obsitnik, a moderate in a conservative field

August 5, 2018

O. The very letter often places Steve Obsitnik in the middle.

When seated alphabetically on a debate stage with the four other Republicans hustling for the party’s nomination for governor, Obsitnik lands smack in the center of Mark Boughton, Tim Herbst, Bob Stefanoski and David Stemerman.

The spot suits Obsitnik. He paints Boughton and Herbst as career politicians, with the best interests of their political ambitions — not the Connecticut people — at heart. But on Obsitnik’s other side are two men with only business experience, the kind of business experience, Obsitnik suggests, that has been about putting money in their pockets.

Obsitnik pitches himself as a new breed: a creator of products who straddled business and government worlds. The Westport entrepreneur worked on the early development of Siri, artificial intelligence technologies and was CEO of an global wireless antenna company.

“I built software systems at the federal, state and local level — for the IRS, DMV of the state of Minnesota, the department of taxation for the state of Minnesota, the East Bay municipal water district,” said Obsitnik.

Obsitnik’s political experience entails a losing race for Congress in 2012 against U.S. Rep. Jim Himes.

But like the middle child, Obsitnik’s central position sometimes means he is virtually ignored. At debates, verbal attacks targeting Boughton and Herbst’s municipal records and Stefanowski and Stemerman’s Democratic party dailliances soar over Obsitnik’s head like heat-seeking missiles while Obsitnik, a former naval submarine officer, waits quietly below.

“I’ve been an underdog all my life,” he said.

Obsitnik’s relative low profile is in spite of the fact that his Republican opponents could easily be attacking him for having expressed at least some reservations about President Donald Trump.

Obsitnik did not vote for Trump in 2016. He wrote in the name of U.S. Sen. John McCain. With his two teenaged daughters in his mind, Obsitnik could not cast a vote for Trump and his “discord.”

A U.S. Naval Academy graduate, Obsitnik criticized Trump’s decision to dismiss U.S. intelligence finding that Russia interfered in the 2016 election when the president spoke to Vladimir Putin in Finland in July.

The Trump administration’s move to separate undocumented children from their parents at the border was “unacceptable,” Obsitnik said, but he favors “securing the borders,” he added.

Still, Obsitnik gave Trump an “A” grade when speaking to Hearst Connecticut Media’s editorial board last month, and said his policies generally seem to be moving the country in the right direction.

A simple formula

Obsitnik’s campaign message is simple and accessible. He has five steps to create 300,000 jobs in Connecticut in the next 8 years.

“Five plus three equals eight,” Obsitnik reminded.

He loosely sums himself up as a fiscal conservative and social libertarian. His economic plan suggests cutting $3.5 billion in annual spending, gradually phasing out corporate taxes while giving the middle class an income tax cut, repealing some business regulations and pushing for a major education-business partnership.

Meanwhile, Obsitnik, who is Catholic, backs a women’s right to choose abortion and said he would protect reproductive rights.

“I think a governor does three things: keeps people safe, takes care of people that can’t take care of themselves and keep as much money in everyone else’s pockets you can grow an economy,” Obsitnik said.

Obsitnik’s run has been hindered by a state investigation into possible coordination between his campaign and the independent group Fix CT Inc., which would violate state election law. Both groups shared a contractor, although Obsitnik’s staff said that the contracts did not overlap in time.

Obsitinik insisted his campaign has done nothing improper. The investigation is ongoing, and the state did grant Obsitnik a $1.35 million public campaign grant.

In his six weeks of waiting for the grant, however, Obsitnik had to loan his campaign money to keep it afloat. He now has several TV commercials out, with a new one going on air Monday ahead of the August 14 primary.

At the Cos Cobber in Greenwich — the hometown of his rival Stemerman — Obsitnik sat in a booth Tuesday with four elderly women who bemoaned how the state has worsened. Obsitnik pitched them his platform highlights and handed them business cards with his cell phone number on it.

“I really hope you win,” one woman said.

emunson@hearstmediact.com; Twitter: @emiliemunson

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