Connecticut Republican politics was turned upside down last Thursday following a statement by former President Donald Trump that he was supporting Republican National Committeewoman Leora Levy in the primary for U.S. Senate this Tuesday.
In so doing, Trump set himself against the candidate endorsed by most elected Republicans in the Nutmeg State and by the Republican State Convention earlier this year — Themis Klarides, former GOP leader of the state House of Representatives.
Since she secured a majority of the votes at the convention, Klarides has been considered the strong favorite to win nomination to take on Democrat Sen. Richard Blumenthal. An Emerson College poll in May showed Blumenthal, 76, defeating Klarides, 57, by a margin of 50% to 40% among likely voters statewide and Levy, 65, by 52% to 36%.
A centrist who is pro-choice and voted for some gun control measures in the legislature, Klarides nonetheless earned high marks from conservatives for leading the fight against tax increases under former Democrat Gov. Dannel Malloy and present Democrat Gov. Ned Lamont.
But while Klarides supported and campaigned with Trump in 2016, she admits that she did not vote for him in 2020 — reports of which undoubtedly helped convince the former president to make his last-minute endorsement of Levy. In so doing, Trump denounced Klarides for being "endorsed by 3 of the worst RINOs [Republicans in Name Only] in the country" — and then identified them as Govs. Larry Hogan of Maryland, Charlie Baker of Massachusetts, and former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.
Levy was a vigorous supporter of Mitt Romney in 2012 and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush in 2016, until his campaign faded early as Trump's was taking off. She has run strongly in the primary as a Trump backer.
"I think that the endorsement is a net positive for Leora, but probably too little and too late," said one Connecticut GOP consultant who requested anonymity. "His endorsement came Thursday night, so too late for any direct mail pieces to hit before Tuesday. Sure, she's been texting and pumping it through social media, but I do not think it will saturate enough to make enough of a difference.
"If this was a month ago, I'd be concerned if I was Themis, but at this point, I think it is probably too late."
Another factor working in Klarides' favor is that the endorsement of the state convention still packs a punch among Republicans who turn out for primaries. Only two Republicans running for statewide office in the past 36 years have won the May convention and lost the primary — Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton won the convention for governor in 2018 and lost to businessman Bob Stefanowski in the primary, and in 1986 State Sen. Dick Bozzuto won the convention but lost the primary to State Rep. Julie Belaga.
"Trump's endorsement might provide a bump with primary voters," said Frank Ricci, retired president of the New Haven Firefighters. "But not enough to overcome the record that Themis established over the years of fighting for lower taxes and smaller government. Trump won't topple Themis Tuesday."
Connecticut last elected a Republican U.S. Senator in 1982. But given the poll findings on Blumenthal, State GOP Chairman Ben Proto told Newsmax last week that he would lobby the Republican National Committee to target the senator in the fall.
John Gizzi is chief political columnist and White House correspondent for Newsmax. For more of his reports, Go Here Now.
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