With only days remaining before the vote, former Trumbull first selectman Tim Herbst said Thursday that he is locked in a dead heat with Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton in the Republican gubernatorial primary.
Herbst made the announcement to supporters on the Southington Town Green as he was surrounded by members of two conservative groups that have backed his candidacy.
“This is a two-man race,’’ Herbst told the cheering crowd. “The polling shows we are surging, and it’s a dead heat. … In a five-way race, 30,000 votes wins. I need your help to turn out those 30,000 people that believe it is time for our government to become smaller and smarter.’’
Herbst and Boughton are battling in Tuesday’s primary against business executives Bob Stefanowski of Madison, David Stemerman of Greenwich, and Steve Obsitnik of Westport. With the vote split five ways and a potentially low turnout in midsummer, the candidates are jockeying for position in a tight race.
Boughton said his campaign has been polling, but he declined to release any numbers Thursday. As the Republican Party’s endorsed candidate, Boughton has been seen by some political observers as the person to beat in the race.
“I would say I would rather be me rather than anyone else right now,’’ Boughton told The Courant.
As part of his strategy, Boughton has tried to remain out of the fray, as he believes Stemerman and Stefanowski have been hurting each other through constant mudslinging in television commercials and mailers sent to Republican homes.
“We tried to practice Reagan’s 11th Commandment,’’ Boughton said, referring to the former president’s well-known mantra against criticizing fellow Republicans. “But people really are intent sometimes at dragging you down, and we try to resist that as much as we can. But at some point, you’ve got to answer things and respond back.’’
One of the biggest points of contention in the primary has been that Stemerman and Stefanowski have both criticized each other for being registered Democrats previously and for making campaign contributions to prominent liberal Democrats. Stemerman was a registered Democrat for seven years while living in New York, while Stefanowski was a registered Democrat during the 2016 presidential race but did not vote in the contest.
Stefanowski said Thursday that he agrees that the race has gotten closer as primary day approaches, but he maintains that he is still in the lead.
“If you had a poll showing that you’re in the lead, why wouldn’t you release it?’’ Stefanowski asked of the other candidates. “I’ll admit it’s tightened. … The attack ads all focused on me. What does that tell you?’’
On the Southingtown green, Herbst stood with members of the pro-gun Connecticut Citizens Defense League and the Family Institute of Connecticut.
Peter Wolfgang, the institute’s leader for the past 11 years, said his group has never forged an alliance with the pro-gun group in the way they have now on behalf of Herbst.
“We’re going to make the case that Tim is the conservative, and the other four are not,’’ Wolfgang said before the rally. “Tim is the only one who is not afraid to take on cultural issues, and he’s the only one that doesn’t react like a deer in the headlights when these issues come up. So we’re going to do everything we can to help Tim win on Tuesday, and when he wins in November, we hope that it encourages the Republican Party in general to have more of a spine in Connecticut when our issues come up.’’
Earlier Thursday, the candidates fanned out across the state in a search for votes. Six candidates for governor, including Bridgeport Mayor Joe Ganim and independent Oz Griebel of Hartford, spoke to business leaders at the Aqua Turf catering hall in Southington. Lamont did not attend because he was in Mystic for a tourism roundtable and in Groton greeting workers at the Electric Boat shipyard.
While standing at the podium at the Southington catering hall, Ganim pulled out his cellphone and dialed Lamont to see where he was. There was no answer. Ganim had the exchange videotaped, and the campaign placed the video on YouTube before distributing it to reporters.
The candidates disagreed over which taxes to cut and when to do it. Boughton is calling for eliminating the state income tax over 10 years, while Stefanowski says it can be done in eight years. Stefanowski said he cannot understand the naysayers who say that eliminating the state income tax cannot be done because it generated more than half of the money for the state budget in the last fiscal year — about $10.725 billion for a budget of about $20.4 billion.
“How is something impossible when we’ve already done it?’’ Stefanowski asked the crowd, adding that Connecticut had no income tax on wages before 1991.
But Griebel said the state must first balance the budget before making any huge tax cuts, adding that only smaller, targeted tax cuts should be enacted first.
“I don’t believe we can reduce the personal income tax in this next biennial budget,’’ Griebel said.
Stemerman, a former hedge fund manager who is self-funding his campaign, said the state “can’t cut a single cent of taxes’’ until the legislature first wrestles down billions of dollars in pension liabilities that are owed to state employees and teachers. He added that if the state cannot balance its books and pay down its liabilities, then eliminating the income tax is “an empty promise.’’
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