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A Trojan Horse fades in the stretch

November 11, 2018

Give lots of credit to Connecticut Republicans for snatching defeat from the jaws of victory in this tattered piñata called the governor’s race.

All they had to do was nominate someone with a pulse, say the pleasant-enough, articulate and informed Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton, who won their erstwhile endorsement at the May party convention.

That was, of course, before Bob Stefanowski made the traditional nominating process obsolete by front-loading a couple million bucks which he “loaned” to his campaign. It would have been so much easier to pay himself back if he had won and had something to, you know, offer.

Or the GOP could have anointed Tim Herbst, the former Trumbull first selectman who would have turned Ned Lamont into a chalk outline on any number of debate stages this fall.

Tech entrepreneur Steve Obsitnik of Westport or David Stemerman, the former hedge fund mogul of Greenwich, also could have been Lamont’s worst nightmare.

But no.

A whopping 42,000 Republicans — remember that number — decided on Stefanowski in the five-way primary. They remembered his name after the long winter-into-spring plethora of Pavlovian TV ads. Stefanowski, another one of those corporate suits for whom GOP voters have an affinity, was a horrible candidate.

At least he seemed horrible, after his campaign manager, a guy named Patrick Trueman, the man who turned a Trojan horse into a piñata, decided to keep his candidate tightly reined.

Trueman and Stefanowski, decided that actual questions were undesirable, especially when asked by aggressive reporters who knew the problems of the state better than the candidate and his handlers, and could have made Big Bob very uncomfortable in public.

If there was anything Trumpian about Stefanowski, besides of course his fawning over the president, it was an ability to steer away from anything in the way of actual policy proposals.

So Stefanowski was kept in a bell jar, with virtually no news conferences beyond five-minute snippets at the few events for which Big Bob came out of hiding. At those occasions and at debates, he used as a shield the creaky supply-side, trickle-down theory that has never proven economically true or viable, as a reason for cutting taxes.

Connecticut workers are really suffering from 10 years of stagnant wages following the fiasco of the mortgage-backed-securities Ponzi scheme that somehow sent no bankers to prison. Meanwhile, voters’ unarticulated dislike of the economic landscape somehow transferred into hate for Dan Malloy, who only reduced overall state spending, invested billions in the under-funded state pension plans and massively changed the benefits of future generations of state workers.

Ironically, the extra time reporters spent not covering Stefanowski’s day-to-day non-events was occupied in covering the Lamont campaign and engaging in deeper questions on what he would do if elected. Election Day came and we had a pretty clear picture of what Lamont would offer voters.

Personally, Stefanowski’s tactics gave me time to thoroughly look into his business background: the profits he made on toll roads; the high-interest, short-term loan company that kept signing up low-income customers even after Stefanowski was hired to supposedly stop the tactics and clean them up; the complaints his executives and lobbyists made to Hawaiian lawmakers that 36-percent profit was not high enough for their payday loan operations.

Stefanowski was a Trojan Horse. What was in there besides a feel good “cut taxes” message and a weak attempt to link Lamont to the excoriated Malloy? We won’t find out because the horse turned out to be a piñata, spilling out the public policy candy after his candidacy was broken up by voters.

The anticlimax was Election Night, shortly before the polls closed, when one of Big Bob’s underlings tried to stop a Hearst Connecticut Media Group reporter and photographer from the otherwise public event in a Rocky Hill hotel. They must have known by then that the blue wave was out on the horizon, heading their way.

It was the final ineffective moment from a neophyte candidate who, if he had started out on the Madison school board — I hear the town has a AAA bond rating — might have had a touch more class.

When the vote totals sputtered in from the big cities in the predawn, Ned’s margin of victory was about 44,100, just slightly more than the Republican enablers gave Big Bob at the August primary, when they thought another millionaire businessman was a sure thing.

Ken Dixon, political editor and columnist, can be reached at 203-842-2547 or at kdixon@ctpost.com. Visit him at twitter.com/KenDixonCT and on Facebook at kendixonct.hearst.

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