Gov. Ned Lamont endorsed by Democrats for second time period, rematch in opposition to Stefanowski

HARTFORD — With his Republican rival securely in place, Gov. Ned Lamont on Saturday earned his place at the top of the Democratic ticket, while the party squabbled over filling several down-ballot races.

A placid start to the second day of the Democratic Party State Convention at Hartford’s XFinity Theatre saw Lamont, 68, glide toward the party’s endorsement along with his fellow incumbents Lt. Gov. Susan Bysiewicz and Attorney General William Tong, none of whom face opposition for the Democratic nomination.

Lamont now faces a rematch against Republican Bob Stefanowski, who received the GOP nomination on Friday night over nominal opposition at the party’s convention at Foxwoods Resort Casino. Lamont defeated Stefanowski by a little more than 3 percentage points in 2018.

“I think we’ve got a good record to run on,” Lamont told reporters after receiving the nomination. “Look where we were four years ago, now look at where we are today. We’re talking about tax cuts, we’re talking about speeding up transportation, three years of a surplus. I’m happy to talk about the last four years for the next four years.”

In addition to renominating the three incumbents for constitutional offices, party delegates selected state Rep. Sean Scanlon, D-Guilford, to run as the replacement for retiring three-term State Comptroller Kevin Lembo.

Scanlon received the endorsement by acclamation, after the only other candidate who expressed interest in the seat, Joseph Taraya, did not receive a nomination that would have forced a floor vote.

Later in the afternoon, open seats for the offices of treasurer and secretary of the state were sent to be decided at a primary election Aug. 9, after multiple candidates for each office received enough delegates to make it onto the ballot.

Throughout the first two days of the convention, speakers have focused on hammering Republicans over voting and abortion rights — a fresh issue for Democrats following the release last week of a leaked draft Supreme Court opinion that would overturn Roe v. Wade.

Bysiewicz, Lamont’s running mate, kick-started the campaign by accusing Stefanowski of silently siding with anti-abortion Republicans on the issue.

“You’re not pro-choice unless you say you will defend our Roe v. Wade law that is enshrined in our state law,” Bysiewicz said. “To date, I haven’t heard him say he’d veto any piece of legislation that comes to his desk if he were governor.”

At the Republican Party convention on Friday night, Connecticut GOP Chairman Ben Proto attempted to blunt that line of attack, saying that Democrats were attempting to capitalize on a national issue that has little relevance in a state where abortion rights are written into state law.

“It’s been codified for over 30 years,” Proto said. “It’s not going anywhere. We just recently implemented legislation to protect health care providers and patients, particularly patients who come here from other states, against criminal prosecution and civil proceedings. So I am not sure it has that much of a bearing in Connecticut.”

While the Republicans began the second day of their convention with a competitive five-way battle over the U.S. Senate race, the Democratic convention saved the only two contestes races for the afternoon, when the crowded amphitheater turned into a flurry of glad-handing candidates, marching supporters and delegate counting

Those open races — for treasurer and secretary of the state — took on additional poignancy after the nominations of Lamont, Bysiewicz, Tong, Scanlon and U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal ensured that the statewide Democratic ticket in November would be majority-male and majority-white.

As a result, several party leaders openly called for the addition of more minority and female candidates to the Democratic ticket through the two open seats.

Erick Russell, a former vice chairman of the state party from New Haven, prevailed in the treasurer’s race after leading the first round of voting with support from 47 percent of the delegates, as opposed to nearly 27 percent for Karen Dubois Walton of New Haven and 26 percent for Dita Bhargava of Greenwich.

“The work of the state treasurer is about a lot more than maximizing returns and managing debt, it’s about supporting everyday hard-working people, it’s about building stronger, safer and more sustainable communities, it’s about creating a more financially-equitable Connecticut,” said Russell.

Both Dubois Walton and Bhargava agreed to cede the party’s endorsement to Russell to avoid additional balloting for a candidate to receive a majority of the delegates, while promising to contest the nomination during the primary.

Speaking to her supporters, Bhargava directly addressed the lack of gender diversity on the ticket, calling on the voters to “get behind women, empower our women.”

The secretary of the state’s race, meanwhile, continued into the early evening after no one in the field of five candidates appeared close to the 50 percent threshold needed to secure the party’s endorsement.

Those candidates included three state representatives — Rep. Hilda Santiago, of Meriden, Rep. Stephanie Thomas, of Norwalk, and Rep. Josh Elliott, of Hamden — along with New Haven City Health Director Maritza Bond and state Sen. Matt Lesser, of Middletown.

Thomas prevailed after leading in all three rounds of voting, winning the final round as her supporters marched through the convention hall chanting “we want a woman.” Lesser, the other candidate to make it to the final round, was trailing heavily and withdrew to take his fight to a primary.

Thomas, who said she had not expected to need a speech at the end of the convention, addressed the remaining delegates saying “We need really strong policy and we need authentic engagement with voters.”

Lesser, Santiago and Bond all received the minimum number of delegates in at least one round of voting to advance to the primary, and all three said they would continue their fight there. Elliott, who failed to qualify for the ballot, withdrew from the race during the second round of voting.

Candidates who are unable to make the ballot at the convention are also able to collect signatures afterward to petition their way onto the ballot. No Democratic candidates for statewide office have publicly announced plans to do so.