Businessman Bob Stefanowski, the Republican contender for Connecticut governor, is winning the battle for outside help over his Democratic rival, as the Republican Governors Association buys up TV ad time in hopes of securing the state’s top political job once again.
The RGA has so far poured nearly $1.6 million into the race to assist the wealthy former CEO and CFO, spending much of that money on ads negatively portraying Greenwich businessman and Democratic candidate Ned Lamont as a proponent of higher taxes and the policies of outgoing Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy. State Republican Party Chairman J.R. Romano said the national GOP clearly sees an opportunity to pick up an open seat.
“They’re here for a reason,” Romano said of the RGA, which cannot coordinate activities with the state party or Stefanowski’s campaign. “I think it’s their top pick-up target.”
An RGA spokesman did not immediately respond to a message seeking comment. Of the 36 governor races across the country, Connecticut is one of nine that Democrats are defending. Former Gov. M. Jodi Rell, who didn’t seek re-election in 2010, was the state’s last Republican governor.
Meanwhile, the Democratic Governors Association has invested $125,000 in the race. Yet records show the DGA has spent its money mostly on research, leaving it to wealthy Lamont to purchase the latest round of TV ads negatively portraying Stefanowski as an acolyte of President Donald Trump who will decimate state services with his tax-cutting plan. Lamont spent millions of his own money on two previous elections.
“We look at every race in terms of how we can make a difference,” said Jared Leopold, the DGA’s communications director, when asked if the organization plans to invest more money in the race.
He said Democrats feel “really good” about Lamont’s chances in November. He pointed to various surveys, including an Aug. 23 Quinnipiac University Poll that gave Lamont a 13 percentage point advantage over Stefanowski.
“It’s certainly a race we’re keeping a close eye on and we feel really good about the position we’re in,” Leopold said. “We’ve seen poll after poll. Nobody is buying what Bob is selling, which is more of Donald Trump’s policies coming to Connecticut.”
Independent petitioning candidate Oz Griebel, who recently began running his first statewide TV and radio ad, said while he’d like to have more money in his campaign coffers, he doesn’t believe cash will ultimately decide this year’s election. He pointed to past wealthy candidates, including Lamont, former professional wrestling executive Linda McMahon and Greenwich businessman Tom Foley, who still couldn’t win over Connecticut voters after spending large sums on TV ads.
“Does the money trouble me? Of course it troubles me. These guys are soaking up the airwaves all over,” said Greibel, a former Republican who has teamed up with a former Democrat as his running mate. “But I really believe that people, they’ve had enough of this. I think there are too many people who look and understand what a bunch of garbage this is. Some guy driving in his car, talking to himself. Some guy doing blends between Ned Lamont and Malloy. Come on. It’s clever, but is it really substantive?”
A political newcomer, Stefanowski spent mostly his own money during the GOP primary, loaning his campaign more than $2.2 million. But he has since stepped up traditional fundraising efforts, announcing Thursday he raised $2 million from August through September, from more than 1,800 supporters. Stefanowski’s campaign said it had $746,000 in cash on hand.
“I am humbled to have received such incredible grassroots support from people in every corner of our state,” he said in a written statement, adding how he believes his message of cutting taxes, including phasing out the personal income tax over eight years, is resonating with Republican, Democratic and unaffiliated voters and that polling shows the race will be “extremely close.”
In an interview following his primary victory, Stefanowski said he planned to continue making personal contributions to his campaign, as well as raise money from others.
“We’re going to spend what it takes to win this election,” he said. “This is too important of an election for Republicans not to win. We’ve got to get taxes down. We’ve got to get regulation down. We’ve got to create jobs. And continuing Dan Malloy’s horrible economic policy is not the way to do it.”
Both history and recent campaign finance records show that Lamont is on pace to outspend Stefanowski when it comes to writing personal checks. As of Aug. 31, he had contributed $3.9 million of his own money to his campaign, while raising about $362,000 from individuals. The cable TV company founder is expected to invest millions more in the race before Election Day. He spent $17 million of his own money on a 2006 run for U.S. Senate and roughly $9 million on a 2010 run for governor, when he lost the primary to Malloy.