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In upset, Stefanowski wins GOP nod for Connecticut governor

Last Updated Aug 14, 2018 at 9:00 pm PDT

Connecticut gubernatorial candidate and Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton concedes the election after being defeated by Bob Stefanowski in the Republican primary, Tuesday, Aug. 14, 2018, in Waterbury, Conn. It was Boughton's third attempt to run for governor. (AP Photo/Bill Sikes)

HARTFORD, Conn. – Bob Stefanowski, a former GE executive who pitched himself to voters as Bob the Rebuilder, won Tuesday’s Republican primary for Connecticut governor in an upset and will face a fellow wealthy businessman, Democrat Ned Lamont, in November.

A political newcomer who bypassed the traditional Republican Party convention process, Stefanowski defeated the party’s endorsed candidate, veteran Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton, and three other Republican candidates. It was Boughton’s third attempt to run for governor.

The Madison businessman gained early name recognition by running a series of ads, in which he pledged to fix the state’s fiscal woes and eliminate the personal income tax.

“I’ve been consistent on this from day one, unlike any of my opponents,” Stefanowski said, adding how he’s the one to “reverse the damage Dan Malloy has done over the last eight years.”

Stefanowski’s win sets up a likely battle this fall over the policies of Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, who is not running for a third term, and Republican President Donald Trump, who Lamont had vowed to fight.

Lamont easily defeated Bridgeport mayor and ex-convict Joe Ganim in Tuesday’s primary. His victory comes 12 years after he defeated the party’s then-veteran U.S. Sen. Joe Lieberman in a Democratic showdown that was viewed nationally as a referendum on the war in Iraq. Lamont later lost in the general election when Lieberman ran as an independent.

As in 2006, Lamont is hoping to ride a wave of national discontent among Democrats. He has promised to “save Connecticut” from the dogma of Trump and his fellow Republicans, whether it’s on immigration, the weakening of environmental standards, limiting of access to abortion or scaling back union members’ rights.

“He’s wrong. We’re going to draw a line in the sand. We’re fighting for Connecticut values, not Trump values, Connecticut values. We are going to be the firewall,” Lamont told supporters who gathered in New Haven.

Democratic Governors Association Chairman Jay Inslee, the governor of Washington state, said Lamont was the only candidate in the race for governor “who will stand up to Donald Trump when his policies hurt Connecticut.”

The Republican Governors Association immediately responded by accusing Lamont of being an “enabler” of Malloy, even though he ran against Malloy in the 2010 gubernatorial primary.

Stefanowski clashed at times with his fellow GOP candidates, who included former Greenwich hedge fund manager David Stemerman, former Trumbull First Selectman Tim Herbst and Westport tech entrepreneur Steve Obsitnik. Stefanowski was criticized for not having voted for 16 years and for a short stint as a Democrat before registering again as a Republican shortly before announcing his candidacy for governor.

Lamont, of Greenwich, has called for a $15-an-hour minimum wage, more funding for local education, electronic tolls for heavy trucks and paid family and medical leave. A financially successful founder of a small cable company, Lamont contends he has the business and people skills to bring various groups together to help solve the state’s ongoing budget problems.

He often speaks about being an outsider and about how the “political class” has failed taxpayers and state employees.

Jenna Baker, of Griswold, a 25-year-old residential manager at a group home for people with disabilities, said she voted for Lamont primarily because he received the endorsement of her union. She said Ganim’s criminal past wasn’t a significant factor.

“By running for governor, I assume he is trying to turn around and be a good person,” she said. “I don’t have anything personally against him.”

Ganim, 58, served seven years in prison for steering city contracts as mayor from 1991 to 2003 in exchange for cash, wine, clothes and home improvements. Still, he was elected again as Bridgeport’s mayor in 2015, just five years after his release from prison. On Tuesday night, he called for party unity.