A late word from Trump reframes CT GOP primary for U.S. Senate

Wills Pike, the master of ceremonies, reacts as Leora Levy holds her phone to the microphone so Donald J. Trump can address the Montville Republican Town Committee. (Mark Pazniokas, CTMirror.org)

The 2022 Election is Nov. 8. A primary is being held Tuesday, Aug. 8.

Donald J. Trump’s endorsement of Leora Levy effectively transformed Connecticut’s three-way Republican primary for U.S. Senate into a one-on-one contest between his chosen acolyte, Levy, and a non-believer, Themis Klarides.

On the ballot Tuesday are Klarides, a socially moderate former state House Republican leader who did not vote for Trump’s reelection, and two Trump loyalists competing for the same conservative base, Levy and Peter Lumaj.

Regardless of whether Lumaj stays in the race, the former president has anointed Levy as the chosen conservative option to Klarides. By backing Levy, Trump has raised the stakes on what now could be a test of identity for Connecticut Republicans.

If they choose Levy, Republicans are opting for a 65-year-old, Ivy League-educated philanthropist from Greenwich who rapidly has transformed from an admirer of the establishment politics of the Bush family to a willing proxy of Trump.

“I am not a career politician. I am a career American,” Levy told Republicans in small-town Montville as they ate steak and corn off paper plates Thursday night. With a bit of Trump braggadocio, she suggested she was Trumpy before Trump. “I was ‘America first’ before anybody coined that phrase.”

Lumaj, an immigration and real estate lawyer seeking statewide office for the fourth time, has called Levy a fraud. But in Montville, he simply pleaded with Republicans to give him a look.

“You have a chance to nominate a true conservative on August 9, and that would be Peter Lumaj,” he said. “For the past 10 years that I’ve been involved in politics, I’ve never changed my position. I’m a God, family and country guy. I believe in the Constitution. I’m pro life. I believe in the Second Amendment because I believe that people that are disarmed will become subject to government abuses.”

Trump called Levy soon after the candidates spoke, creating a true moment of political theater witnessed by her stone-faced rivals. Grinning, Levy returned to the microphone and held up her phone so the 45th president of the United States could offer his greetings — and an endorsement of Levy.

A Levy ad attacking Klarides for, among other things, disloyalty to Trump was hastily revised Friday with a red banner that flashed every time Levy’s smiling visage was on screen. The banner carried white block letters: “ENDORSED BY TRUMP.”

Democrats are gleeful.

Trump’s presidency was disastrous for Connecticut Republicans, and Democrats welcome his presence. Rising from the Barack Obama landslide of 2008, when Republicans lost all but 37 of the 151 seats in the Connecticut House, they won half the seats in the Senate and came within a half-dozen of a majority in the House in 2016.

The comeback in the House was led by Rep. Lawrence F. Cafero of Norwalk and then Klarides, his successor as minority leader. Both eschewed the culture-war rhetoric of the national GOP, focusing instead on Connecticut’s record of deficits and economic stagnation under Democratic majorities.

Themis Klarides told the Montville RTC, which has endorsed her, she would be “Dick Blumenthal’s worst nightmare.” (Mark Pazniokas, CTMirror.org)

But mobilizing around opposition to Trump in the 2018 midterm election, Democrats won solid majorities in the General Assembly, dashing Klarides’ ambition of becoming the first Republican woman to oversee the House as speaker. They also elected Democrat Ned Lamont as governor.

Aside from embracing Trump, Levy has gone from supporting abortion rights to declaring herself opposed to abortion in all cases except pregnancies that result from rape or endanger the life of the woman. Klarides has been a supporter of reproductive rights throughout her career.

Lamont’s campaign quickly noted that the Republican nominee for governor, Bob Stefanowski, who has labored to stay away from Trump and the issues of abortion and gun control, has contributed the maximum $5,800 to Levy’s campaign, siding with an abortion foe over Klarides.

For good measure, the Democrats noted the NRA also prefers Levy to Klarides, who voted for the comprehensive gun safety law passed in response to the Sandy Hook massacre of 26 educators and children. Levy says the law’s restriction on large-capacity magazines infringes on the rights of gun owners.

“It’s clear that Donald Trump and Bob Stefanowski want the same kind of person representing Connecticut in the U.S. Senate — someone willing to pursue anti-choice policies and serve at the pleasure of the NRA,” said Onotse Omoyeni, a Lamont campaign spokesman. “It begs the question — what kind of extremist policies would Stefanowski pursue if he were governor?”

Stefanowski said he gave the maximum to Levy and a lesser amount to Lumaj because they solicited him and Klarides did not.

The recipient of a perfunctory endorsement by Trump only after winning the primary for governor in 2018, Stefanowski quickly noted he has not sought Trump’s blessing this year.

Stefanowski was not present Thursday night in Montville, but his name was on a banner behind Levy as she delivered a Trump-style stump speech and later as she held up her phone, letting Trump speak.