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Advantage: Dannel over Donald

In an election influenced by two deeply disliked individuals, whose names appeared nowhere near a ballot, Dannel has prevailed over Donald. 

Being another Dannel Malloy, though hardly desirable, proved preferable to being another Donald Trump in the race for governor of Connecticut.  

True, there were many other factors in play, ranging from the majority Democrats’ leading role in creating the state’s economic mess to the minority Republicans’ inability to take advantage of that mess by coming up with one of their best and brightest as a candidate, not to mention the Democrats’ inability to do the same.

But the specter of Donald and Dannel was always there — in ads that saw Ned Lamont’s face become Malloy’s, or Trump in a hard hat described as Bob Stefanowski’s mentor, his tax plan dismissed as “Trumpian.”  

In the end, we had a remarkably close contest, with one of the larger off-year voter turnouts, that was won by the Democrat over the Republican in what amounted to a contest between two unappealing candidates.

This happened in one of the bluer of the Blue Northeastern states, where the Democratic candidates for the U.S. Senate and House won easily.  

The state Legislature, however, had been  growing more Republican in recent years with the State Senate tied and the House with a slim Democratic majority — until Election Day 2018.

Even though Lamont’s victory is the third straight Democratic win for governor, the state’s voters haven’t been that Blue in recent years.  Before Malloy’s first election in 2010, Republicans elected a governor four straight times — John Rowland in 1994, 1998 and 2002, and Jodi Rell in 2006. They succeeded Lowell Weicker, another Republican turned Independent, who was elected to one term in 1990. That’s five consecutive terms between the second term election of Democrat Bill O’Neill in 1986 and Malloy in 2010.

But this year was going to be different and the Republicans were looking almost certain to begin another run of two or three gubernatorial wins — until the candidates emerged and their unpopular godfathers appeared in their shadows: Malloy as Lamont and Trump as Stefanowski.

Gary Rose, the Sacred Heart University political scientist who’s been watching state politics for decades, talked to the Hartford Courant about the phenomenon in late October.  

“I haven’t seen this strategy before,” he said.  “Two personalities merged into one.  It’s clearly a reflection of how both of the political leaders are perceived in Connecticut. It has, in some respects, stained both candidates and that was the intent, and I think it’s worked.”

But it wouldn’t have worked without a little help from the candidates themselves. Both of them campaigned for months without sharing how they would cope with the state’s bulging deficit.  

Stefanowski appeared to make his vow to eliminate the income tax his only issue and Lamont promised to lower property taxes without raising other taxes and to fix the state’s public employee pension and health care crises by inviting the parties to the table.  Now, he’ll have the opportunity to provide details, beginning with his budget plan in February.

In the end, the Democratic Party’s electioneering skills and superior numbers prevailed with the public employee unions exhibiting even better than usual talent for getting out the voters, including those masses of Election Day registrants.

It’s clear the new governor is going to be busy with more pressing matters but he, the secretary of the state and the Legislature should repair that ill-advised Election Day registration fiasco and see to it that Connecticut joins the 37 other states allowing early voting.

But for the good of all of us, let’s hope this year proves to be the Republican Party’s low point.  We need a vibrant two-party system and we certainly didn’t get it with the Stefanowski candidacy.  

The day after the election, the wise and witty Mike McGarry, one of Hartford’s few living Republicans, wrote in his hometown paper that his party’s candidate had failed to travel from town to town, learning about area problems, thereby “building a perception he didn’t know much about the state he wanted to lead.”

He and others noted Stefanowski declined to meet with the editorial boards of leading newspapers and attempted to go around the press,  forfeiting “the chance for more extensive, free media coverage.”

And, as a final blow, McGarry wrote, “Some say President Trump poisoned the well almost weekly.”  

Make that “almost daily.” 

 

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