Trouble in the middle for Lamont, Stefanowski.
By the end of many close elections, the Democrat and Republican have slinked toward the middle. Their bases secure, they hope to capture a majority in the moderate turf where most people live.
That’s how it works in Politics 101, especially in this state, with 41 percent unaffiliated — but not in Connecticut 2018.
Liberal Democrat Ned Lamont and conservative Republican Bob Stefanowski have mostly hewed to their ends of the political spectrum, leaving the moderate voters wondering which one, if either, is their man.
The reasons are slightly different for each, although one reason they’ve stuck to their base messaging is the same for both: It’s who they are.
Lamont, 64, is more moderate in style and background, as a wealthy business entrepreneur and civic volunteer from Greenwich. His supporters say that alone will help him pick up moderate voters, and they remind us he’d be the first business founder and CEO to occupy the governor’s mansion ( yeah, I know, the Executive Residence) in generations.
Stefanowski, 56, has a personal brand built on anti- government anger as an outsider not only to elected office but to civic activity as a whole. That’s a naturally less moderate stance. When the Madison executive and consultant votes for himself Tuesday, he’ll cast only his second ballot in 18 years, in any election.
Both have part of the recipe that would have allowed them to sneak into the middle, and both lack a key ingredient.
Lamont has the broad policy positions to pull off a centrist raid. For example, he has said everyone must step up to the table to solve Connecticut’s $ 2 billion budget gap. ( It’s not “$ 4.5 billion over two years,” folks; that’s double- counting.) Stefanowski seized on that remark as proof Lamont will raise taxes, when in fact it’s basically a moderate, politically obvious position to hold.
But Lamont never locked down the base of low- income minority voters, labor unionists and suburban progressives. That has kept him from straying to the middle.
That’s why on Friday he was out there at a labor rally in New Britain, promising, as CT Mirror said in a headline, “We’re going to be fighting for you.” Some of that is the traditional get- out- the- vote push on the weekend before Election Day, of course. And some is him showing he still needs to win the unvarnished support of his core groups.
For example, Lamont has not loudly and clearly said he’d seek concessions from state employee unions and teachers by working with them, as a friend. He’s hinted at it at times, said it outright a few times and denied some aspects of it at other times — as when I asked him during a luncheon for retired teachers whether he’d try to reopen the health and pension deal. He said no, a deal is a deal.
The reason: He can’t waver toward the middle because he really, really needs that base to support him.
Oh, and there’s the Malloy factor. Gov. Dannel P. Malloy campaigned in the arms of public employee unions, only to cut 4,000 jobs, demand five years of pay freezes, launch two new, lower tiers of employees with lower benefits and add mandatory health payments. Naturally, some in the labor movement feel burned. Some are less than eager to do it all again for Lamont, even though they know they’d be far worse off under Stefanowski — who has said he wants to break the unions outright.
Anyway, Lamont doesn’t seem to want to back away from his undiluted support for unions and cities. He and Stefanowski seem less willing to bend their ideologies than, say, Republican Tom Foley and Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy in the last goaround.
Stefanowski has his anti- government base safe and sound in the back of his campaign bus. He could say or do anything he wanted and they’d still vote for him, as his model, President Donald Trump, correctly said during his own campaign.
But he never had a road map to the center, having staked his journey on a singular, far- right vow: ending the state income tax and other levies without adding revenues elsewhere. By refusing to discuss details, take reporters’ questions for more than five minutes or present an economic plan beyond “Malloy has killed Connecticut” — which is not borne out by the facts — he’s boxed himself into the lane on the far right side of the road.
And, like Lamont, Stefanowski seems satisfied with that — although it makes us all wonder why he was a registered Democrat from October 2016 until July 2017, right before he declared as a Republican.
And so we have a vast, vacant middle, with dissatisfied voters giving each candidate a negative rating around 40 percent. “They are both transactional candidates at a time when our state needed transformation,” one observer said — a reminder that true change means more than just promising to stick to an ideology.
But the middle will vote, and Stefanowski makes up ground among older, whiter, largely male voters. Lamont, younger, women, people of color.
Don’t believe the Gravis Marketing poll that came out Friday, giving Lamont 46 percent, Stefanowski 37 percent and petitioning unaffiliated candidate Oz Griebel 9 percent, with Lamont leading even among men. That poll’s 681 respondents were 40 percent Democrat leaning, far more than the 36 percent Democrat registration.
It’s a dead heat, people. Your vote counts. Circumstances appear to favor Stefanowski although Lamont could change that with a big turnout. The forecast for rain Tuesday helps Republicans.
Lamont had hoped the voter registration numbers and Stefanowski’s ludicrous refusal to engage in issues would put him over the top. Instead, we have an angrier state than most of us had imagined.
Stefanowski feeds off that anger. In a videotape released Friday by Democrats, he tells a gathering of Republicans during the primary that he would “file Hartford for bankruptcy” and shut down New Haven for being a so- called sanctuary city.
And, crucially, Lamont’s aw shucks personality has failed to ignite people in great enough numbers to give him breathing room.
On Saturday afternoon, Lamont and other Democrats filled the basement of the Bethel AME Church in New Haven. Margie Ford, an insurance agent who was in the church for a choir practice, said Lamont has the charisma to deliver big crowds to the polls Tuesday.
Others in New Haven are more skeptical including a woman named Patricia, who said she liked “the other guy” more, but couldn’t say why.
Griebel is taking a share of the center, but his voters are policy watchers, not the ones who would have voted for Stefanowski — whose ignorance of the specifics on the issues tends to attract lower- information feelers rather than thinkers. That does not mean all Stefanowski voters are low- information, just that he’s a more natural magnet for them than Lamont.
The bottom line: Lamont will lose on Tuesday unless his campaign excites 20- somethings, urban African Americans and suburban women fed up with Trumpism. The first two of those are the flightiest groups in all electiondom.
Any Democrat needs those groups, of course, but more so for Lamont because he’s left the middle up for grabs.