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Stefanowski concedes race to Lamont: ‘He won fair and square’

Governor-elect Ned Lamont. (CT Mirror)

The aftermath.

In a live call to a supportive morning radio team, Republican Bob Stefanowski publicly conceded the Connecticut governor’s race to Democrat Ned Lamont today, saying after a long and see-saw night of slow returns, “He won fair and square.”

Stefanowski told “Chaz & AJ in the Morning” on WPLR that he had just called Lamont, describing a cordial end to what had been a bitter, deeply person campaign to succeed Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, a Democrat whose thin victory in 2010 was not declared for three days.

Without either of the candidates making an appearance, the gubernatorial campaigns sent their supporters to bed at 1:30 a.m. with Stefanowski holding a two-percentage point point with about 75 percent of the state’s 715 precincts reporting. With 91 percent of the vote counted, the tide shifted today to Lamont.

At 8:29 a.m., results tabulated by the Associated Press gave put Lamont ahead, 48.1 percent to 47.4 percent, with 3.9 percent for Oz Griebel.

High turnouts in struggling cities and well-to-do suburbs that rejected Donald J. Trump in 2016 buoyed Democrats, who correctly saw the fruits of progressive organizing since the election of a polarizing president. But officials in both parties struggled to analyze a disconnect between the top and bottom of their tickets.

Results came in slowly, a result at least partly attributed to wet ballots that clogged optical scanners. Officials said some voters, wet from torrential rains, inadvertently dampened ballots as they filled them.

“We had, believe it or not, wet ballots,” said Secretary of the State Denise Merrill, a Democrat and one of just two statewide constitutional officers seeking re-election. “We’re telling them, ‘Get out your hair dryer, dry them off, put them back through.’ But in some cases thousands of ballots may have to be hand-counted.”

Merrill and Shawn Wooden, the nominee for treasurer, told a thinning crowd of Democrats at the Dunkin Donuts ballpark in downtown Hartford that they believe the election would turn their way.

“All the numbers are not in yet. It looks like it’s going to be a late night,” Wooden said early Wednesday. “But I am very encouraged by the turnout all over the state today. I am very encouraged by the numbers that have come in so far.”

Wooden’s opponent, Thad Gray, conceded early today, as did Kurt Miller, the Republican who challenged Comptroller Kevin P. Lembo.

Lamont’s campaign manager, Marc Bradley, updated the crowd just after 1:15 a.m.  with a prediction of victory.

Though he couldn’t predict how many more hours it would take to tally the results, Bradley said “One thing we are sure of — when the votes are counted we’re confident that Ned Lamont’s going to be the next governor of the state of Connecticut.”

At the Sheraton Hartford South Hotel in Rocky Hill, Republicans were equally upbeat, encouraged by a 20,000-vote lead. But they left on a sour note, with Republican State Chairman J.R. Romano complaining of municipalities withholding results.

“We’re up 20,000 votes, and we’re going to fight,” Romano said.

A win by Stefanowski would turn over a financially struggling state government to a former sub-prime lender whose campaign was built on the unlikely foundation of no governmental experience, little previous interest in politics, and an audacious promise to phase out the income tax.

Stefanowski, 56, who was a Democrat until three months before becoming a Republican candidate last year, is a former corporate expatriate who lived abroad for 10 years, not voting in U.S. elections for several years after his return, and making no choice between Trump and Hillary Clinton in 2016.

A win by Lamont would return the state to unambiguous one-party rule, both a burden and a blessing in an era of chronic fiscal crisis.

The winner will take office on Jan. 9 as the 89th governor of Connecticut. The following month, the legislature will demand what no candidate offered during the campaign — a detailed proposal for how to close a projected budget shortfall of $2 billion.

Lamont, 64, of Greenwich was running in his third statewide campaign since 2006, when he briefly became a national figure as the anti-war candidate who effectively forced U.S. Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman from the Democratic Party. He won the primary, only to see Lieberman win as a petitioning candidate backed by state and national Republicans.

Lamont’s partner at the top of the ticket was U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy, a Democrat who won a second term Tuesday. Their joint advertising sold them as a team who would work in Hartford and Washington to thwart what they called Trump’s assault on gun control, environmental protections, immigrants and the Affordable Care Act.

Bob Stefanowski with his daughters at his polling place in Madison. (Clarice Silber)

Lamont outspent Stefanowski by a 2-1 margin, but the Democrat’s advantage was largely neutralized by $7 million in spending by a super PAC funded by the Republican Governors Association. Half of Stefanowski’s budget was money he loaned or contributed to himself.

While the cities turned out, some Democrats called the legislative results the triumph of suburban women, a demographic pollsters and pundits closely tracked after Trump’s election fueled a new activism by women angered at the defeat of Clinton, who would have been the first women elected president.

“When they woke up after Election Day in 2016, they realized the country they thought they lived in was not the country they lived in, and that women’s rights were not secure — and if a man like Donald Trump can be elected president, they better get involved,” said Jillian Gilchrist, a victorious legislative candidate from West Hartford. “Everyone’s been waiting for this day.”

One of them was Shannon Wynn, a 24-year-old student at Southern Connecticut State University who voted against Stefanowski at his own polling place in Madison.

“I did a lot of research and I can’t fathom voting for somebody that supports our president right now,” Wynn said. “I think it’s absolutely disgusting, especially being a woman voter, being pro-LGBTQ. Bob Stefanowski, for example, has expressed his unwavering support for Trump, and I just can’t vote for somebody like that. I don’t want tolls on our highways but I’d rather vote for tolls than vote for anybody that supports Trump.”

The split in voters over state finances vs. national issues was evident throughout the day.

Sanjay Sardana, 46, of Wilton brought his two sons with him to vote, and his concern was their financial future. “I think we got put into a big hole in the last eight years,” Sardana said. “I’m hoping the next governor can make Connecticut the state it once used to be.”

He voted for Stefanowski.

Outside the polling place at Danbury High School, Suzanne Whelchel, 50, said she voted straight Republican. The big issues for her are getting spending under control and reversing the trend of businesses and people leaving the state.

“When I was young, Connecticut was the place people wanted to move to,” she said. “Now it’s the place people want to move out of quickly.”

Nina Dinshaw, 46, of Wilton, saw the election on broader terms. She said she grew up in a developing country and knows that when corruption starts at the top, it will seep down. In the United States, she said, “Corruption is seeping into politics and, therefore, into society.”

On the question of values, she said she voted for the Democratic ticket, viewing them as honest. She voted for all Democrats, including Lamont and Murphy.

Democratic leaders said Stefanowski’s simplistic pledge to phase out the income tax, which was viewed skeptically in polls by half of Republicans, ultimately hurt Stefanowski, even if it helped him win a five-way primary.

“What we saw was a private-sector candidate thinking they can just run the state and that the details don’t matter. They matter,” said former House Speaker J. Brendan Sharkey of Hamden. “The entire state has gone through a really difficult time in the last 10 years. People have become engaged. They want to understand.”

Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin, who ended an exploratory campaign for governor to endorse Lamont, said Stefanowski’s pledge weakened his credibility.

“The overwhelming majority of Connecticut residents knew that was not a serious or achievable proposal,” Bronin said. “I think people saw right through it.”

But at least in the early hours of Wednesday, that analysis didn’t hold.

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