OP-ED | Starry-eyed State GOP Needs To Change Course
Will state Republicans never learn? I understand the GOP is in something of a bind. The state is dominated from top to bottom by Democrats. But if it is ever to become competitive again, the second-class party has got to look beyond celebrities, multi-millionaires, and retreads when searching for candidates for high-profile state offices.
The latest flirtations involve a pair of television personalities who happen to live in Fairfield County. CNBC host Larry Kudlow, a well known Republican, said last week on his radio show that he would run against Richard Blumenthal next year if the senator voted for President Obama’s proposed deal to limit Iran’s nuclear program.
Kudlow briefly considered a run in 2010 against Blumenthal and in New York against incumbent Sen. Chuck Schumer, but ultimately declined. There are advantages, after all, of living in two states.
Kudlow, who lives part-time in Redding, joins MSNBC host and former congressman Joe Scarborough, a New Canaan resident who has not yet announced but is looking and sounding like he wants to run for governor in 2018, if not sooner.
In the last couple of years, Scarborough has taken a number of steps to ingratiate himself with state political observers. He’s had Gov. Dannel P. Malloy on Morning Joe at least half a dozen times. He’s made the ongoing Connecticut budget-and-business-climate drama an occasional topic for discussion on the nationally televised cable show with co-host Mika Brzezinski, a familiar face to Nutmeggers from her days as a reporter for WFSB-TV.
In June, Scarborough appeared on Face The State to talk state government and his love of Connecticut with Dennis House. Perhaps most significantly, Scarborough hosted a dinner with Connecticut VIPs this summer at his home to discuss the state’s future.
Then on Aug. 20 Scarborough was the keynote speaker and host of the kick-off event at Fairfield University of an anti-tax campaign sponsored by the Yankee Institute, a conservative think tank based in Hartford.
Is Scarborough running? He’s clearly keeping his options open. Scarborough says he loves the state and has chosen to make it home. At any rate, he’ll need to bone up on the issues, if his misleading pronouncements in June on the controversial unitary reporting tax on corporations are any indication.
No Connecticut Republican has emerged victorious in a statewide race since M. Jodi Rell won a full term as governor in 2006 — the same year Chris Shays was the last GOPer to win a congressional race here. At that time, Republicans made up 25 percent of the state’s registered voters. Since then that percentage has slipped to 20. Meanwhile, wrestling magnate Linda McMahon and private-equity guy Tom Foley — rich people from Greenwich who largely self-funded their campaigns — both took a pair of unsuccessful cracks at the U.S. Senate and the governor’s mansion respectively.
During Foley’s second try, Republicans at the convention and in the primary chose Foley’s deep pockets over two credible homegrown candidates: Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton and Senate Minority Leader John McKinney. Boughton is a proven executive, while McKinney remains well respected on both sides of the aisle. But the starry-eyed party bosses and primary activists again went for the deep pockets — and where did it get them? Four humiliating losses in four years. Meanwhile next door in Massachusetts, Republicans comprise only 11 percent of the electorate, but they still managed to get one of their own elected governor last year.
Kudlow and Scarborough are both blustering cable news commentators who are thin on governmental experience and have never run large organizations. Scarborough might be more credible as a candidate, having served in public office before, but his three-and-a-half terms in Congress were largely undistinguished.
I realize the Republicans have a thin bench, at least in contrast to the majority party, but as the last few years have demonstrated, there are credible GOP candidates out there. One GOP disappointment has to be that rising star Sean Williams left the House in 2013 to become — you guessed it — a lobbyist. Maybe Williams could be lured back?
Ironically, the GOP in Connecticut might have been consigned to oblivion if not for the state’s minority representation law, which guarantees that no party can have more than two-thirds control over an elected municipal board or commission. Unfortunately for the Republicans, that same boneheaded law exempts legislative bodies large enough for its members to represent individual districts or wards, freeing up the General Assembly and the largest cities to be lorded over by Democrats, while preventing the Republicans from dominating the smaller towns where they’re strongest.
One thing is certain, however. If Connecticut Republicans don’t change their strategy, they’ll be living proof of Einstein’s definition of insanity.
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