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GOP Connecticut governor candidates look to break out

July 24, 2018
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From left; Republican candidates for governor Mark Boughton, Tim Herbst, Steve Obsitnik, Bob Stefanowski, and David Stemerman face off in a Hearst Connecticut Media sponsored debate at Sacred Heart University in Fairfield, Conn. on Tuesday, July 24, 2018. (Brian A. Pounds/Hearst Connecticut Media via AP)

FAIRFIELD, Conn. (AP) — Faced with a large field of competitors and just three weeks to go until the summertime primary, Republican candidates for Connecticut governor attempted on Tuesday to break away from the pack and get noticed by what could be a relatively small number of voters next month.

They stressed their records as either elected officials or private sector leaders; where they stand on getting rid of the personal income tax; and their ideas for addressing the state’s continuing budget challenges, at a mid-day debate at Sacred Heart University’s business school.

“The time has come, not just for introductions, but to distinguish among the candidates,” said former Greenwich hedge fund manager David Stemerman, during opening remarks at the event, sponsored by Hearst Connecticut Media and WSHU.

Shortly afterward, he and fellow wealthy businessman Bob Stefanowski of Madison clashed over one another’s business record. Stemerman criticized Stefanowksi, a former General Electric executive for not having worked at GE for a decade. He pointed out how Stefanowski more recently worked for an overseas company that sold high-interest payday loans.

Stefanowski shot back, arguing he helped to clean up that firm, before criticizing Stemerman for making his fortune by “skimming money off trading stocks.” In contrast, Stefanowski paints himself as someone who worked his way up the corporate ladder from humble beginnings.

In a field of five candidates, both acknowledge they’ve been confused for one another by voters. The other contenders include the party’s endorsed candidate, Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton, former Trumbull First Selectman Tim Herbst and Westport tech entrepreneur and former U.S. Navy officer Steve Obsitnik.

“I think both of us are very interested in distinguishing ourselves from one another and I’m confident when people understand the difference, that they will be choosing me,” Stemerman said.

Before addressing a local Republican town committee on Monday night, Stefanowski told The Associated Press that voters get confused by the candidates’ last names starting with the same letter.

“I go with Bob,” he said, pointing out his new television ad that refers to him as “Bob, the Rebuilder,” a play on the cartoon character Bob the Builder. “Part of the focus of that was getting away from Stemerman and more as Bob, because I don’t want to be compared to him. I’m an outsider, but I’ve got a very different profile than he does.”

Herbst also took aim at Stefanowski, who has been running TV ads for months. Herbst repeatedly questioned why he didn’t vote for 16 years, didn’t register again as a Republican until shortly before running for governor, and made campaign contributions to former U.S. Sen. Chris Dodd, a Democrat.

“His numbers are going to drop like a lead balloon. When Republican primary voters find out his history and his background, people will go running from him in record numbers,” said Herbst, who Stefanowski repeatedly referenced as “Timmy” during the debate.

Herbst said he thinks he has the best shot of breaking out from the pack and appealing on Aug. 14 to primary voters, typically the most politically conservative.

“I really am the only conservative in the race,” he said. “I believe that I am breaking out and I believe that now that we are now up on air and the message is getting out there, I think that there’s a block of voters that want a consistent conservative as their governor.”

Both Boughton and Obsitnik argued they have messages that will resonate to voters beyond the primary. Boughton, touted his record as mayor of Danbury, one of Connecticut’s more successful cities, claiming he can replicate those achievements statewide. He called this a “moment of opportunity” for Republicans. Meanwhile, Obsitnik said he’s “all about character” and explained how that principle will guide him as the state’s next governor.

“That’s what the Navy taught me,” he said, “and I will lead that way as well.”

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