Three weeks before Connecticut Republicans hold their state convention May 12, GOP eyes throughout the Nutmeg State — and those of a growing number of national pundits — are increasingly focused on New Britain Mayor Erin Stewart.
At age 30, as the lone woman among the 15 gubernatorial Republican hopefuls, and after winning three two-year terms as mayor of the heavily Democratic Hardware City, Stewart is inarguably the most-noticed of any contender vying to succeed retiring Democratic Gov. Dan Malloy.
Should Stewart (who turns 31 in May) become the Republican nominee and then go on to emerge triumphant in November, she will be tied with fellow Republican Harold Stassen of Minnesota as the youngest-ever governor in U.S. history.
(Stassen, who became his state’s "boy governor" in 1938 at age 31, is best remembered as the perennial presidential candidate. The nation's second-youngest governor is Bill Clinton, whose 1978 election as governor of Arkansas at 32 made him a Democratic star overnight.)
Named by Newsmax last year as one of "30 Most Influential Republicans Under 30," Stewart is, like the young Stassen and Clinton, a noticeable politician.
At a time when the Republican Party nationwide appears to be moving increasingly right-of-center, the mayor freely volunteers she is pro-choice, feels Roe v. Wade was correctly decided and that she has officiated at same sex-marriage ceremonies.
"And I've worked with Democrats [who controlled New Britain's Common Council during two of her three terms] and public employee unions," Stewart told Newsmax during a recent interview in her office. She quickly added that her fiscal policies ended the city's fearsome $30 million deficit that she inherited upon becoming mayor in 2013 and eliminated 16 city jobs through attrition rather firing.
A week ago, Mayor Stewart presented a fresh budget for the coming fiscal year without any tax increases.
"Call me a fiscal conservative and social moderate," she told us, "Think Rudy Giuliani when he was mayor of New York [1993-2001]. Hey, a Republican is just not going to win in Connecticut by shouting 'Go Trump!' when Hillary Clinton won our state by more than 200,000 votes."
"Erin’s crossover ability and likeability gives our party its best chance for victory statewide," former State GOP Chairman and Stewart supporter Jerry Labriola, Jr., told us. "With our convention coming up, I would say to my fellow delegates: 'Are you tired of losing?'"
Under state law, a candidate must get 15 percent of the roughly 1300 delegates to the state convention next month in order to qualify for a statewide primary August 5. Stewart's campaign team feels "cautiously optimistic," to use a favorite phrase of Ronald Reagan, they will get the 177-or-so delegates they need.
From there, Stewart and her supporters are confident that they can make the case that the candidate's positions, record and contrast to the other contenders are the winning elixir with Republican voters — especially younger voters and women.
Team Stewart likes to point out that her leading opponents for nomination are primarily past pursuants for higher office who all met defeat: Danbury Mayor Mark Broughton (who has twice lost the gubernatorial nod), Trumbull First Selectman Timothy Herbst (who lost a race for state treasurer in 2014) and former U.S. Comptroller General David Walker, who made a losing bid for lieutenant governor in 2014.
No less than nine Democrats are vying for the gubernatorial nomination. Multi-millionaire Ned Lamont, a champion of leftist causes and 2006 Democratic Senate nominee, is considered the front-runner.
"The problem with most of the candidates in both parties is they lack fresh ideas for tomorrow," Stewart said, jotting down notes for her platform between answers. "Look, we have a real brain drain here, with many graduates fleeing because of the high taxes imposed under Gov. Molloy. Perhaps if we exempted graduates of UCONN [the University of Connecticut] from the state income tax for three years, we'd woo a lot of bright young professionals to stay here."
Given Connecticut's history of "firsts" in electing women, Stewart's gender is inevitably discussed. Republican Clare Booth Luce became the Nutmeg State's first woman in the House back in 1942, and Democrat Ella Grasso, elected secretary of state in 1958, went on to become the first woman governor elected without following her husband in 1974.
Stewart's favorite is Ann Uccello, a Republican who became the first big-city mayor in the state when she won the mayoralty of Hartford in 1967. Re-elected in 1969, "Mayor Ann" was shown by polls to be the best-known Republican in Connecticut and badly wanted to run for governor the following year. But state party leaders had another candidate in mind and, with President Nixon himself calling Uccello, convinced the mayor to instead run for Congress from the heavily Democratic 1st District. She lost narrowly.
"I went to see Mayor Uccello, who is 96 and doing fine," Stewart told us. "She told me she always regretted making a race she wasn't comfortable with and not doing what her heart told her. When I asked for advice, she told me 'Follow your heart, dear. I did.'"
John Gizzi is chief political columnist and White House correspondent for Newsmax. For more of his reports, Go Here Now.
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