Herbst staking out territory on the right
Even without millions in personal wealth or the advantage of the party nomination, Tim Herbst has the other Republican candidates for governor right where he wants them.
The two self- funding millionaires, he says, are out- of- touch neophytes with records of contributing to Democrats. Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton’s time has passed. Steve Obsitnik, the Westport tech entrepreneur, has no elective track record and Shelton Mayor Mark Lauretti is up against a fast- approaching deadline for petitioning his way into the August primary. Herbst, the former eight- year Trumbull first selectman and 2014 candidate for state treasurer, says he’s the face of the next generation of Connecticut leaders. He is staking out a conservative agenda to appeal to the Republican base he hopes will buoy him to the GOP nomination.
Many, even in his own party, think his aggressive campaign shows he has a perennial chip on his shoulder and a permanent scowl on his face.
“I don’t think I’m angry,” Herbst said
with a smile. “I’m competitive.”
Bestowing Trumpian nicknames
Herbst is already looking past the Aug. 14 primary and ready to go head- to- head with “Retread Ned,” a Trump- style nickname he has concocted for the endorsed Democratic candidate, millionaire Ned Lamont, of Greenwich.
He is sitting on a stool in a coffee shop in his hometown, where he lives by himself in a house on an acre- and- a- third. The day is hot, the patrons come in wearing shorts and T- shirts, while Herbst wears a politicians’ body armor: the pin- striped suit, a pale- blue shirt and tie. A crossfit devotee, Herbst orders a green iced- tea.
“I call Ned ‘ Retread Ned’ because this is his third time at the rodeo, just as it’s Mark Boughton’s third time at the rodeo,” Herbst said of those candidates’ previous failures at statewide elections. “So I don’t think a retread candidate beats a retread candidate.”
And who could win?
“I think a 37- year- old who’s won tough elections, who’s been battle- tested, who’s been through a statewide general election campaign, who has had to make difficult and unpopular decisions governing, who is the son of public school teachers, who comes from a humble and mid- dle- class background, is the perfect contrast against somebody like Ned Lamont,” Herbst said, referring to himself. “And I think that the people of the state of Connecticut want strong, new leadership in our state.”
Herbst barely acknowledges the outsider candidates, Bob Stefanowski, of Madison, and David Stemerman, of Greenwich, millionaires who are self- funding their campaigns and didn’t participate in the convention. He dismissed their conservative credentials, noting they have given thousands to Democrats in the past.
“Leading up to the convention, our polling showed that we were gaining ground and we were taking a lot of artillery fire from a lot of the other campaigns,” Herbst said. “We were taking it from the Walker campaign, the Lumaj campaign, the Lauretti campaign, the Boughton campaign. Given what was incoming, I was really proud where we ended up.”
Of course, David Walker, of Bridgeport, and Peter Lumaj, of Fairfield, fell short at the Republican convention, Boughton got the party’s endorsement and Herbst and Steve Obsitnik qualified to primary.
“A three- way primary presents, I think, a unique opportunity to allow me to make the clear and compelling contrast with Mayor Boughton and Mr. Obsitnik,” Herbst said, ignoring the uncomfortable fact that, if the three petitioning candidates are successful, the primary could be a six- way free for all. “What I’m going to be telling people across the state is very simple. This is a generational election in the state of Connecticut. They’re going to have to decide whether they want to keep the same generation in place that caused this mess, or it they want to elect a new generation of leadership to fix this mess.”
To that end, Herbst wants as many public debates as possible over the next 11 weeks, to make it clear to Republican voters that he is the best choice for the nomination. He did not seek re- election in Trumbull so he could focus on the 2018 gubernatorial race, and has spent much of his time blasting Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and Democrats in the General Assembly.
Herbst’s spokesman, Jon Conradi, is the former former political editor for conservative bombthrower Laura Ingraham’s LifeZette blog, a sign that Herbst is playing to the far right, a space left open by the Lumaj departure.
State Democrats, meanwhile, are targeting Boughton and Herbst.
“Democrats are going to continue to do what we’ve always done: talk to voters about issues that matter to them because the choice between Democrats and Republicans in this election could not be more clear and the stakes could not be higher,” said Christina Polizzi, spokeswoman for the Democatic State Central Committee.
Gary L. Rose, a Sacred Heart University political scientist who is preparing a book on the 2018 governors’ race, said he wouldn’t be surprised if Herbst won the primary.
“He is the conservative alternative, certainly, to Steve Obsitnik and Mark Boughton,” Rose said, noting Herbst is honing his right- wing message for GOP primary voters.
“Tim’s actually going to find a fairly receptive base for his candidacy, while Obsitnik and Boughton could be splitting their bases,” Rose said. “The Republican Party in Connecticut is not a right- wing party, but it has moved to the right over the years.”
Boughton, who was elected mayor in 2001, was the nominee for lieutenant governor in 2010 and made an unsuccessful run for the party’s gubernatorial nomination in 2014, is taking the political high ground, avoiding a war of words with Herbst.
“It’s kind of silly,” he said of Herbst’s campaign. “If we’re going to win the primary and general election, it’s best to address the state’s yawning budget gap and putting people back to work. I have a track record and I’m proud of it.”
Republican candidate for governor Tim Herbst speaks during an interview in Trumbull on last week.