Get-Out-The-Vote Formula In Sharp Focus In Hotly-Contested Primaries

From old fashioned sweat equity to avant-garde algorithms designed to predict electoral patterns, a raft of candidates for Connecticut’s top offices is pulling out all the stops to get out the vote during the final throes of the primary campaign.

Just over 1.2 million registered Republicans and Democrats — 57 percent of the electorate — are eligible to vote in Tuesday’s closed primaries for governor, four other constitutional offices, U.S. Senate, Congress and the legislature.

But far fewer are expected to show up at the polls, which puts a premium on the get-out-the-vote strategies of seasoned political pros and newcomers. Much of the electorate is “summering,” from Amagansett to Siasconset, leaving staycationers to pare down a record number of candidates on the primary ballot.

There are marquee matchups for governor: the five-way Republican contest and the highly anticipated showdown between Ned Lamont and Joe Ganim for the Democratic nomination.

Former Trumbull First Selectman Tim Herbst, the runner-up for the GOP endorsement for governor, wondered Wednesday whether primary voters will be turned off by the mudslinging in the race.

“Here’s the thing I can’t get my arms around,” Herbst said while campaigning Wednesday morning at the Milford train station. “I question whether that suppresses turnout.”

It could take fewer than 30,000 votes to win the Republican nomination for governor, based on the turnout statistics from the last two GOP primary elections in Connecticut. In 2014, 79,426 showed up for the primary, compared to 120,171 in 2010.

At the top of the ballot is 17-year Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton, the GOP’s endorsed candidate. Then there’s Herbst, Westport tech entrepreneur Steve Obsitnik and businessmen Bob Stefanowski and David Stemerman.

No one has more invested financially in his get-out-the-vote operation than Stemerman, a Greenwich hedge fund mogul who has poured $13 million of his fortune into his campaign.

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“Converting your support to actual voters is going to be critical to winning the election,” Stemerman said while stumping Wednesday morning at the Fairfield train station.

Stemerman said he’s using a combination of analytics, door-knocking, phone calls and digital communications to drive his supporters to the polls, as well as an aggressive schedule of appearances during the final days of the primary race.

“I expect the turnout will be on the higher side this time,” Stemerman said.

Lamont, the Democratic-endorsed candidate who is seeking to avenge his 2010 primary loss to Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, said he does better when there’s a higher turnout.

All the Greenwich telecommunications magnate has to do is look back to his 2006 upset of incumbent Joe Lieberman in the U.S. Senate primary. Forty-three percent of registered Democrats voted in that nationally watched contest, many of them at odds with Lieberman’s support of the U.S. war in Iraq. Lieberman won the general election by running as an independent petition candidate.

“I like big turnouts. I do well with big turnouts,’’ Lamont said. “I do not do as well when there’s just a small group of party insiders. So I have a lot of work to do.’’

Lamont is trying to spread the word about the importance of the election, citing the huge problems facing the state. Several major unions are rendering aid to Lamont, from organizing phone banks to word-of-mouth.

“I’ve got to convince folks of the consequence of this election,” Lamont said. “It is enormous. If you have a Republican in there, and they honestly think they can eliminate the [state] income tax, what does that do to your schools and what does that do to your property tax?’’

Even when voters are distracted during their summer vacations, Lamont said, he has seen a turn recently.

“They’ve started paying attention,’’ he said. “How many vote? Getting the young people energized? We’ll see.’’

Ganim, the once-imprisoned mayor of Bridgeport, knows he has to broaden his base beyond the state’s largest city. That’s where the 32,000 people who signed Ganim’s petitions to get onto the primary ballot come into play.

“We’ve reached out to them, and we’ll continue to reach out to them with phone calls and mail,’’ Ganim told The Courant, adding that as many as 80 percent of his petition signers could vote for him.

Ganim has won six elections in Bridgeport, but none statewide. He was the 1994 Democratic nominee for lieutenant governor.

“It’s very hard in the middle of August to push for a high turnout, and so I would expect a lower turnout, although we’ll do everything we can to get the vote out,’’ Ganim said. “I think this election will be decided on who gets the vote out. If my voters get out, we win. And the same thing with Ned.’’

Ganim said his campaign has an estimated 200,000 phone numbers that supporters are calling, but acknowledged that connecting isn’t as straightforward as it once was because of cell phones.

“The other thing that is critical is the passion and energy of your voters,” he said. “I’ll let you fill in the blank on that — where the passion and energy is.’’

The Working Families Party will also provide progressive Democrats with a boost in the primary. The liberal, labor-backed group has paid field workers across the state focused on getting out the vote for legislative and statewide candidates, said Zack Campbell, director of media and outreach.

As workers fan out across Connecticut promoting legislative candidates, they’re also handing out literature urging support for a slate of Democrats the party has cross-endorsed, including Lamont for governor, Eva Bermudez Zimmerman for lieutenant governor, Shawn Wooden for treasurer, William Tong for attorney general and Jahana Hayes for Congress in the 5th District.

“Our volunteers will be sending out text message reminders to make sure voters know,” Campbell said. “It’s newer but people tend to pick up their phones right away. We’ll still do the emails that we traditionally do, but on the day of the election, you need people to see it immediately.”

Democrats enjoy a decisive voter registration advantage over Republicans, who haven’t won a statewide election since 2006.

This is the first primary for Herbst, who predicted that 100,000 to 112,000 Republicans will cast votes Tuesday.

He’s put an emphasis on turning out his conservative base and held a rally Thursday in Southington with leaders of the Connecticut Citizens Defense League and the Family Institute of Connecticut, the state’s leading Second Amendment and pro-life groups. Herbst characterized the race as extremely fluid.

“In a primary, three points can move within 24 hours,” Herbst said.

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Stefanowski said he is circling back with the 12,000 registered Republicans who signed his petitions in the late spring for him to get onto the primary ballot.

The former UBS chief financial officer from Madison went the petition route after bypassing the GOP’s nominating convention in May, visiting the homes of many of the state’s 449,394 Republicans.

“It’s the best ground game we could ever have,” Stefanowski said.

Stefanowski said his campaign has special software that allows its volunteers to dial registered Republicans faster, an effort that has been going on for several weeks. He said he also plans to deploy a number of top surrogates to help him make his closing case to Republicans, including former rival Peter Lumaj.

“I’m going to be leveraging those guys too to go back to their base,” Stefanowski said.

Boughton, who has a perceived edge as the GOP’s endorsed candidate, said he’s hustling.

“We’ve got to be in front of Republican voters,’’ Boughton said. “We’re going to do everything we can to get our message across the state. We’ve got a full schedule from now until 8:15 on primary night. Attending events, meet and greets, as well as standard hand-shaking, attending fairs, sidewalk sales, things like that.’’

Obsitnik, who bought a recreational vehicle to campaign across the state, said he’s been to at least 25 debates, forums and joint appearances over several months.

“I’ve been to every debate and answered every question — even questions that aren’t always popular,’’ Obsitnik said.

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