HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — Republicans have found success in Democratic strongholds like Maryland and Massachusetts once they have fielded moderate candidates who could appeal to voters in each parties. With Democrats facing headwinds this yr, Republicans had hoped that strategy could repay yet again.
But Republican voters have nominated loyalists of former President Donald Trump in several Democratic states, including Maryland and Connecticut, making the GOP’s odds of winning those general election races even longer.
Massachusetts will face its own test next month as GOP voters resolve between a Trump-backed conservative and a more moderate Republican for the party’s gubernatorial nominee.
“It might’t proceed,” said former Connecticut U.S. Rep. Christopher Shays, a moderate Republican and Trump critic, referring to the GOP selecting pro-Trump candidates. “Certainly one of the things that may occur is that a variety of the Trump candidates who won the first will lose the final election. And there are a variety of unhappy Republicans who hold office now who consider that the Senate now’s in jeopardy of staying Democratic.”
Trump’s influence was on full display earlier this month when his last-minute endorsement helped propel Leora Levy, a member of the Republican National Committee who opposes abortion rights, to victory in a Republican U.S. Senate primary in Connecticut over the party’s endorsed candidate, former House Minority Leader Themis Klarides. Klarides supports abortion rights and said she didn’t vote for Trump in 2020.
“Sad day for CT,” tweeted Brenda Kupchick, the Republican first selectwoman of Fairfield and a former state representative, after the Aug. 9 race was called for Levy. Days earlier, after Trump endorsed Levy on speakerphone at a GOP picnic, Kupchick tweeted, “How is that helpful in the final election in CT?”
Kupchick’s tweets sparked criticism in each GOP camps. Trump supporters accused Klarides of not being a “true conservative.” Moderate Republicans predicted that Levy’s nomination ensured Democratic U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal would sail to victory in November, despite a Quinnipiac poll in May registering his lowest job approval since he took office in 2011.
The last Republican to represent Connecticut within the U.S. Senate was Lowell P. Weicker Jr., who served from 1971 to 1989, though Connecticut has elected a moderate Republican governor as recently as 2006, with M. Jodi Rell.
Levy, who has never before served in elective office, contends her message of controlling high inflation and energy prices, stopping “government intrusion between parent and child” and addressing crime will resonate with a big selection of voters.
An identical dynamic has unfolded in liberal Maryland, where Dan Cox, a far-right state legislator endorsed by Trump, won the Republican primary for governor over a moderate rival backed by outgoing Republican Gov. Larry Hogan, a Trump critic. And in heavily Democratic Massachusetts, Republican voters casting ballots within the state’s Sept. 6 gubernatorial primary will make a choice from Geoff Diehl, a Trump-backed former state representative, and Chris Doughty, a businessman with moderate views. Centrist Republican Gov. Charlie Baker, a Trump critic, decided against searching for a 3rd term.
The Democratic nominees in Maryland and Massachusetts are viewed as strong favorites to flip the governor’s mansions in those states.
Trump’s backing has propelled his candidates to victory in top races in battleground states, too, boosting Democrats’ optimism of winning the final election. In Arizona, former TV news anchor Kari Lake, who has said she wouldn’t have certified President Joe Biden’s 2020 victory, defeated lawyer and businesswoman Karrin Taylor Robson, who had been endorsed by former Vice President Mike Pence and outgoing GOP Gov. Doug Ducey. In Wisconsin, Trump-backed businessman Tim Michels beat former Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch, who had been endorsed by Pence and the state party. Each Michels and Kleefisch, nevertheless, falsely claimed the 2020 presidential election was rigged.
In Connecticut, Levy’s nomination is already getting used as a rallying cry for Democrats, who contend she’s out of the mainstream for a state where Republicans are outnumbered by unaffiliated voters and by Democrats. Other than opposing abortion rights — reversing her position years ago of supporting abortion rights — Levy has spoken out against job-related COVID-19 vaccine requirements and transgender rights. Levy effusively thanked the previous president during her acceptance speech, promising, “I is not going to allow you to down.”
A day after the first, Blumenthal’s campaign sent out a fundraising message that warned, “The first results are in, and I’m officially facing off against Trump’s hand-picked candidate in the final election — a radical Republican who will likely be nothing but a rubber stamp on Mitch McConnell’s disastrous agenda.”
Levy, in turn, has tied Blumenthal to Biden, casting him as a “rubber stamp” for the Democratic president’s “failed policies” as president and blaming Blumenthal for taking part in a “a key role in creating virtually every challenge our country faces today.”
“Dick Blumenthal wants this election to be a referendum on a President. Donald Trump isn’t on the ballot in November, but Joe Biden is,” she said in a news release issued after the first.
Shays, who now lives in Maryland, said he believes an endorsement by Trump is disqualifying. He said he contributed to the campaign of Wes Moore, the Democrat running against Cox in Maryland, and would vote for Blumenthal if he still lived in Connecticut.
“I’ll vote against anyone who seeks the support of Donald Trump because that tells me a lot about their character and what they intend to do if elected. That’s the underside line to me,” Shays said.
Ben Proto, chair of the Connecticut Republicans, dismissed any suggestion that the first victory by Levy signaled a political evolution inside the state GOP. Fairly, he said, the party this yr has “candidates across the board who hold different opinions on particular issues.”
But what they’ve in common, he said, is the goal of getting inflation under control, making Connecticut cheaper, addressing crime and allowing parents to be the “primary stakeholder” of their children’s lives.
“At the top of the day, the problems which might be necessary to the people of the state of Connecticut, we’re pretty solid on,” he said.