GOP Mudslinging Increases With One Week To Gubernatorial Primary

With only one week left to the hotly contested primary for governor, Republican candidates are flooding mailboxes and advertising at a blistering pace on television and radio as they bash each other relentlessly.

Clash Between Wealthy Business Executives Escalates In GOP Gubernatorial Primary »

Former Greenwich hedge fund manager David Stemerman had been blasting fellow business executive Bob Stefanowski, but now he’s expanded the attacks to include Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton and former Trumbull First Selectman Tim Herbst. In his most recent mailer sent to homes of registered Republicans, Stemerman compares Herbst and Boughton to Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, whose approval ratings are particularly low among hardcore Republicans who vote in primaries.

Boughton and Herbst are “career politicians” who “raised taxes and government spending,” the Stemerman mailer declares as Malloy is pictured between the two Republicans.

Political observers and the candidates themselves are debating over the exact fallout of the increased negativity — and trying to determine which candidates will benefit or be hurt the most.

The two Republicans with the largest war chests — Stemerman and Stefanowski — were bashing each other exclusively before the attacks spilled over to others in recent days. The two former business executives have criticized each other for being registered in the past as Democrats and making campaign contributions to prominent liberals — not a popular position among conservative voters.

Herbst told The Courant that Republicans recoil when the topic of Democratic contributions comes up as he knocks on doors around the state.

“It’s Kryptonite to Republicans — for both of them,’’ said Herbst, referring to the radioactive substance feared by Superman in the comic book series. “This is like watching a murder-suicide.’’

In a multicolored flyer, Herbst depicts Stefanowski and Stemerman as “two peas in a pod” — showing their faces on green peas. He asks, “Who’s the bigger Democrat: Stefanowski or Stemerman?’’

Picking up on the same theme, Boughton sent out a mailer that shows the faces of Stemerman and Stefanowski on coins and says they are “changing parties at the flip of a coin.’’ Stefanowski once contributed to former U.S. Sen. Christopher Dodd, the one-time general chairman of the national Democratic Party, while Stemerman once contributed $2,300 to then-presidential candidate Barack Obama.

“Now they’re trying to hijack the Republican Party,’’ Boughton writes. “By actively supporting Democrats and their liberal causes for years, they have disrespected every Republican in Connecticut.’’

Stemerman counterattacked in another mailer, noting that Boughton “said he voted for his dog over Trump in 2016.’’ Boughton said later that he was joking.

Democrats Happy With Attacks

Meanwhile, Democrats are delighted that Republicans are trashing each other, saying that the bad blood could potentially harm Republican candidates in the general election in November.

“The Republicans can do as they want,’’ said Coleen M. le Pere of North Haven, a Democrat and public schoolteacher who supports Bridgeport Mayor Joe Ganim in the gubernatorial race. “They can play together in the sandbox or they can go back to elementary school — and that’s from a teacher.’’

In an interview, Stefanowski said that he was forced to run negative advertising in order to combat Stemerman.

“It think it’s unfortunate David went this way,’’ Stefanowski told The Courant. “I think it’s a sign of desperation. Unfortunately, I had to respond. I would not have gone negative first. He did, so I had to set the record straight. I had to show the hypocrisy of the guy — a seven-year Democrat criticizing me for nine months [as a registered Democrat]. It’s classic hypocrisy.’’

A former high-level executive at General Electric and UBS, Stefanowski has raised and contributed more than $2.9 million for his campaign. Stemerman has announced that he would spend as much as $13 million on the primary.

One of the biggest clashes has been related to Stefanowski’s tenure as the chief executive officer of Dollar Financial Corporation Global, a payday-lending firm whose practices have been controversial. Stefanowski responded that the problems at the company were present in the years before he arrived in November 2014, and he was hired to clean up the mess.

“There’s pointing out the facts, and there’s mudslinging,’’ Stefanowski said. “An example of mudslinging is Stemerman’s ad [on payday lending], which is factually incorrect and insulting. That, I have no patience for.’’

Albert Eisenberg, a spokesman for Stemerman, said, “Given that Bob Stefanowski still won’t tell Republican voters why he abandoned the party after Trump won the nomination, and was a Democrat just days before he announced for governor, it’s understandable that he wouldn’t want voters to know his real record. The facts are the facts, though, and Bob’s refusal to address them is a pattern we’ve seen throughout this campaign.’’

In the five-way race, the Republican candidate facing the fewest attacks has been Westport technology entrepreneur Steve Obsitnik. He was the last candidate to receive a $1.35 million public campaign finance grant, which delayed his advertising and gave the other four candidates a head start.

Asked who will benefit from the constant clashes, Obsitnik said, “I guess we’ll find out Aug. 14. We need substance, not mudslinging. I’m a candidate, not a strategist.’’

Ganim, who is running in the Democratic primary against Greenwich cable television entrepreneur Ned Lamont, said the clashes among Republicans have exposed their weaknesses and can cause confusion among the average voter who is trying to determine which candidate is the best in a complicated, five-way race that culminates Tuesday.

“It’s got to make the voter wonder who they can really believe,’’ he said.

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