Connecticut U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal has $7.5 million in campaign money and enviable name recognition after decades in public office, but Republicans in the Democratic-leaning state still see an opportunity to win a seat in the United States Senate after a drought of about 30 years.
The state’s top Republicans are touting Themis Klarides, the former GOP leader in the state House of Representatives, as a formidable challenger with the best chance of capitalizing on the strong national headwinds facing Democrats this year. electoral.
State Democrats remain confident Blumenthal, 76, will win a third six-year term. But if Klarides receives her party’s endorsement in May, it will be the first time Blumenthal has faced a challenge from such a high-profile state politician. Klarides served more than two decades in the General Assembly, representing Derby, Orange and Woodbridge, and was the first woman to lead the House Republican caucus before retiring in 2021.
The 56-year-old lawyer, former model and bodybuilder who worked as a ring girl for WWE while studying for the bar exam, initially considered running for governor. She announced her pivot to the Senate race in January, saying she believed she could win over voters with her moderate stances on social issues, such as support for abortion and gay rights, and her conservative views on tax issues.
“I’ve spoken to a lot of unaffiliated people and a lot of Democrats who are really disappointed with Senator Blumenthal; disappointed that he is toeing the party line and being partisan in everything he does,” she said. “He didn’t put Connecticut first, and his time has come to retire.”
Blumenthal has publicly avoided commenting on the race, telling The Associated Press — after a recent visit to Poland to learn more about the war in Ukraine — that he was focused on his job. He has co-sponsored bills to limit the purchase of Russian energy and seize luxury assets linked to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“There will be plenty of time to talk about the campaign,” he said.
However, during fundraising appeals, Blumenthal warns his supporters that he is “against radical loyalist opponents of Trump who want to overthrow this seat” and says his campaign needs help securing Democratic control of the Senate: ” With everything from reproductive rights to voting rights to climate justice and more on the line, failing is not an option.
Klarides has been both critical of and supportive of former President Donald Trump over the years, and said while she’s heard from his supporters before, she expects to benefit more from the general voter frustration.
National Republicans have yet to officially weigh in on Connecticut’s Senate race, given that there is still a potential primary. But at least two independent super PACs, which can raise unlimited amounts of money, have been formed, signaling that outside groups are interested. One supports Klarides and the other supports Leora Levy, a conservative Republican from Greenwich who is a member of the state’s Republican National Committee and holds other positions within the party.
Other Republicans vying for the party’s endorsement include Peter Lumaj, a conservative Republican and lawyer from Fairfield who once ran for office statewide; Robert Hyde of Canton, a 2019 congressional candidate who was asked to end that candidacy by top Republicans following vulgar tweets; John Flynn of Norwalk, carpenter, painter and former candidate for state legislature; and Nicholas Connors, small business owner, of New Canaan.
Republican State Central Committee member Bryan Cafferelli was among those who urged Republicans to “unite around Themis” and avoid a potentially damaging primary.
Ben Proto, the state’s GOP chairman, said President Joe Biden’s declining approval ratings will boost all Republican candidates in Connecticut, even against a high vote like Blumenthal. He compared the situation to the 1994 midterm elections, when the GOP took control of Congress and won the race for governor of Connecticut.
“There’s clearly a wave coming,” he said, linking Blumenthal to the Biden administration’s policies on coronavirus mandates, rising inflation and high gas prices. Blumenthal has proposed suspending the federal gasoline tax.
Republicans are also likely to attack Blumenthal for attending a December event linked to the Communist Party. He said he was unaware of the affiliation.
Blumenthal’s last tight contest was in 2010, his first run for the U.S. Senate. Republican Linda McMahon, the former professional wrestling executive, spent $50 million on the race. McMahon’s camp had bragged about being responsible for a New York Times report revealing that Blumenthal had repeatedly told the public that he had served in Vietnam, when in fact he had remained in the United States. United with the Marine Reserve during the war. Blumenthal apologized, telling voters he had “misspoken” and never intended to mislead anyone. During his tenure, Trump frequently called Blumenthal derogatory names referring to the issue.
In Connecticut, the GOP faces a challenge when it comes to numbers. As of October 2021, there were fewer than 465,000 active registered Republicans compared to more than 825,000 active Democrats and 930,000 active unaffiliated voters. Meanwhile, Blumenthal supporters say the former U.S. attorney, who began his political career in the General Assembly in 1984 and went on to serve an unprecedented five terms as state attorney general, has racked up a tremendous goodwill.
Nancy DiNardo, chairwoman of the state Democratic Party, said she wasn’t worried about Blumenthal at all.
“The people of Connecticut know the work he has done and appreciate the work he has done for Connecticut and its citizens,” she said. “He did a phenomenal job as Attorney General, and he continues to do a phenomenal job as a U.S. Senator.”