Herbst stak­ing out ter­ri­tory on the right

Connecticut Post (Sunday) - - Front Page - By Ken Dixon

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.”

Ned Ger­ard / Hearst Con­necti­cut Me­dia

Repub­li­can can­di­date for gover­nor Tim Herbst speaks dur­ing an in­ter­view in Trum­bull on last week.

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