HARTFORD, Conn. — Their names may appear far down the ballot from the presidential contenders, but Connecticut’s General Assembly candidates still feel the effects of the contentious national campaign.
Republicans in particular have been repeatedly challenged by state Democrats to disavow their presidential nominee, Donald Trump, following various provocative remarks he’s made. The state Democratic Party and legislative leaders recently stepped up their calls following the release of a 2005 video tape where Trump made vulgar comments about women.
“I think the events of last week were a game-changer,” said House Majority Leader Joe Aresimowicz, a Democrat from Berlin who is overseeing efforts to get House Democrats elected. “I think the Republicans who are supporting him should stand up and say why to their voters because I think it does matter.”
Senate President Martin Looney, D-New Haven, said who a candidate supports for president provides insight into their “governing philosophy” and “those who are supporting Trump are of a very different mindset than others.”
While some GOP candidates have publicly distanced themselves from Trump, state Republican Party Chairman JR Romano contends voters care more about jobs and the condition of Connecticut’s economy than who a state legislative candidate supports for president. He calls efforts to draw Trump into this year’s state races “diversionary tactics” that won’t work.
“The Democrats are trying to make this election about everything but their record and their record in Connecticut is abysmal,” Romano said. “People know it.”
Despite two major tax increases and wide-ranging spending cuts in recent years, Connecticut continues to face projected budget deficits. The state also lags the rest of New England in job recovery from the economic recession. Democrats currently control both chambers of the General Assembly.
Rep. Vincent Candelora, a Republican from North Branford, is helping to oversee efforts to get House GOP candidates elected. He questions the effectiveness of bringing up Trump, saying Democratic voters aren’t particularly excited about their nominee, Hillary Clinton.
“Frankly, what we’re seeing is general disgust among the presidential candidates, period,” he said.
Candelora, who has not endorsed Trump, said the billionaire businessman may help the state GOP. Aside from drawing his enthusiastic supporters to the polls, Candelora said Trump has made it easier for more moderate Connecticut Republicans to talk about state issues, such as the budget.
When former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney was the GOP nominee, he said Republican candidates in Connecticut were in an awkward position of having a presidential candidate running on a socially conservative platform that’s mostly unpopular here.
“When it was issue-based, I think it was much tougher for Republicans to distinguish themselves. We would get typecast with a certain type of Republican,” said Candelora, adding how this year’s election is more personality-driven.
“When (voters) talk about the candidates, universally, Republicans, Democrats, unaffiliated, they say, ‘I don’t like her because she’s a liar and I don’t like him because he’ a pig,'” Candelora said. “That gives us an opportunity to talk about where the state of Connecticut is.”
Aresimowicz called Candelora’s theory “an interesting premise,” but said he doesn’t believe “it holds much water.”
He and other Democratic leaders have criticized the GOP for being too negative about Connecticut, saying the state is making progress. They point to recent announcements of more manufacturing jobs.
Aresimowicz said voters tell him they want Democrats and Republicans to work together to improve the state, not fight one another.
“The only things I’ve been hearing from the other side of the aisle are, the state is in terrible shape, it’s a death spiral,” he said. “Many of the facts don’t match that.”