Connecticutâ€™s campaign for governor is promising an election that means something, if not yet one with a good chance of saving the state.
The leading candidates for the Democratic nomination have pledged themselves to take orders from the government employee unions, the partyâ€™s dominant bloc, with the state AFL-CIO seeming to favor wealthy Greenwich businessman Ned Lamont, who has failed in previous candidacies for U.S. senator and governor and who shows little knowledge of state government.
As the only woman in the Democratic race, confronting five men, former Secretary of the State Susan Bysiewicz would seem to be the favorite, especially in a primary against two or more of them. Strangely, her obeisance to the unions got her nowhere at their recent convention - are even the unions tired of her shopping around for office? - and in the most recent debate of the Democratic candidates she seemed annoyed, suggesting a lack of progress.
Bysiewicz complained that in financing his own campaign Lamont will not adhere to the spending limits of state governmentâ€™s campaign financing system. But the virtue of that system is its diminishing reliance on donations from special interests. Financing his campaign himself, Lamont isnâ€™t taking special-interest money any more than Bysiewicz and the other candidates aspiring to government financing are. Lamont is no more a special interest to his campaign than Bysiewicz and the other candidates are one to theirs.
If Lamont wins endorsement by the Democratic state convention, Bysiewicz likely will be offered the nomination for lieutenant governor in exchange for declining a primary. The failure of her last two candidacies - for governor and U.S. senator - would suggest taking what she can get. Lieutenant governor is a great job - ample salary and benefits, not much responsibility, and a long-dated lottery ticket on the governorship.
As for the Republican nomination for governor, the leading candidates have pledged to reduce state governmentâ€™s labor costs and face down the unions.
They also have pledged not to infringe on gun rights, figuring that gun owners will have great influence in a Republican primary, though there is hardly an issue of less consequence to Connecticut than guns, the state already having the countryâ€™s toughest gun laws as well as the second worst financial position. That catastrophic position and the unpopularity of the leader of Connecticutâ€™s Democratic Party, Governor Malloy, ordinarily would almost guarantee election of a Republican administration. But the Republicans face two serious problems.
The first is President Trump, who in Connecticut is almost as loathed as Malloy is.
Democrats will try to turn the election for governor and General Assembly into a referendum on Trump, and while this will make no sense with state issues, the Democrats desperately need a distraction and Trump is a huge distraction.
The second problem for the Republicans is that the party has so many candidates for governor. If enough get into a primary, either by obtaining 15 percent of the vote on any ballot at the state convention or by petitioning, the result in the primary could be so splintered as to cause the nomination of an extremist, a buffoon, or an ignoramus.
Thus, the Republican conventionâ€™s crucial work is, if not to unite the party, at least to reduce to two or three the candidates continuing to a primary.
Chris Powell is a columnist for the Journal Inquirer in Manchester, Connecticut.