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Could CT have a third-party governor?

Could Connecticut become the Land of Oz in 2018?  

That’s Oz as in R. Nelson “Oz” Griebel, the latest in a long line of candidates for governor.  Never heard of him? That’s no problem. We’ve never heard of most of the candidates for that open position and aren’t terribly excited about those we’ve heard of.

Griebel is a businessman who lost the 2010 Republican nomination to Tom Foley, who then lost to Dannel Malloy — twice.  He is known in the middle of the state as the business-friendly head of the MetroHartford Alliance, the region’s name for its chamber of commerce.  

He seems to be allying himself with the 14-member Commission on Fiscal Stability and Economic Growth created during the last budget deliberations. The high powered commission is co-chaired by longtime Griebel associate Bob Patricelli, the former chairman of Women’s Health Care and chairman of the Kasich for President campaign in Connecticut.  But of greatest significance, he’s running as a member of neither party.

There was a poll hardly anyone noticed in mid-December that seems to confirm the suspicion that the state’s voting public is sick unto death of the Democratic Party and ready to look elsewhere for the next governor of Connecticut. Normally, that would be to the Republican Party but 2018 doesn’t look normal and the Republican Party is not exactly a local favorite these days either.

The poll by Tremont Public Advisors, a Hartford-based firm run by a Democratic political operative with no candidate in the race, indicates the voters would prefer a “generic” Republican without a name to an equally nameless “generic” Democrat 35.4 to 22.5 percent. Since voters usually select a Democrat or a Republican with a name, the poll indicates the parties need to find one or two.

Candidates with names did far worse in the poll than Joe and Jane Generic. Hartford’s Democratic Mayor Luke Bronin led the sorry pack with 10 percent, followed by Danbury’s Republican Mayor Mark Boughton and former Democratic Secretary of the State Susan Bysiewicz at 9 percent, failed Democratic candidate for governor and senator Ned Lamont at 7 and onetime Republican U.S. comptroller general David Walker at 5 percent.  

This would presumably leave a gap of Grand Canyon proportions for an attractive candidate free from the burden of being a Connecticut Democrat or Republican in 2018.

And that returns us to the Land of Oz. But before you buy your red shoes for the inaugural ball, we need a brief reality check.   As Lowell Weicker proved not too long ago, it’s possible to run for governor of Connecticut as a third-party candidate and win. So did Joe Lieberman, who was denied the Democratic nomination for reelection to the Senate but easily defeated the party endorsed Democratic and Republican candidates.  

But these two had a bit more going for them than someone like Griebel. Both enjoyed universal name recognition for starters along with strong funding and campaign organizations. Griebel has to get the signatures of 7,500 registered voters to get his name on the ballot, something that isn’t as easy as it sounds. He has said he won’t seek public funding, which would have also been difficult to obtain, so he needs a lot of financial support not usually available to the unaffiliated.

On the plus side, there are signs that the state is not only tired of Democratic control of state government but wary of voting for the party of Trump.  And there is a rather hefty base of voters who pledge allegiance to neither party. In constantly referring to Connecticut as a deep blue state, we forget that Democrats form not the largest, but the second largest voting bloc.

In the 2016 election, Democratic voters outnumbered the Republicans by 791,000 to 452,800.  But the largest number of voters, 837,206 preferred not to ally themselves with either of the parties. True, they vote with the Democrats most of the time, but maybe not this time. And many of them may not be able to bring themselves to move all the way over to the GOP.  In the 2017 local elections, many Republican towns sent Democrats to local offices out of disdain for Donald Trump.

Gary Rose, a political science professor at Sacred Heart University, is the neutral political guru state media have turned to for an informed opinion on Connecticut politics for several years — a sort of state version of the University of Virginia’s Larry Sabato.

Way back in September, Rose told The Courant he saw the Democrats “tarnished by Malloy … and I’m sure the Republicans will remind us of that every single day.  And on the Republican side we have a relatively weak field … and of course, you’ve got Trump.

“Out of that could come a fresh face with a fresh perspective.”  

We’ll see about that. 

 

Simsbury resident Dick Ahles is a retired journalist. Email him at rahles1@outlook.com.