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After primary victory, GOP Senate candidate Leora Levy should mend fences, CT political expert says

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Mark Mirko
/
Connecticut Public
Republican U.S. Senate candidate Leora Levy steps out of the main room of her primary-night watch party to take a congratulatory phone call from former President Donald Trump. Levy upset front-runner Themis Klarides and will face incumbent U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal.

The results are in from the 2022 primary elections in Connecticut, and at least one race delivered a surprise.

It will be Leora Levy, and not Themis Klarides, who will face off in November against Democrat Richard Blumenthal for the U.S. Senate seat he has held since 2011.

Levy is the conservative Republican who has the support of former President Donald Trump. Klarides is a moderate who had the backing of the state party establishment.

Southern Connecticut State political scientist Jonathan Wharton joined Connecticut Public's "All Things Considered" to share his reaction and perspective on this and other primary races.

Wharton said one of Levy's first orders of business should be to mend fences with fellow Connecticut Republicans after a primary campaign that he found surprisingly personal.

Among other races Wharton looks ahead to are:

  • Former Darien first selectman Jayme Stevenson (R) prevailed to face U.S. Rep. Jim Himes (D) for the 4th Congressional District;
  • The matchup for secretary of the state between Stephanie Thomas (D) and Dominic Rapini (R);
  • The contest for treasurer between Erick Russell (D) and Harry Arora (R);
  • Democrat Dennis Bradley's competitive but unsuccessful bid to hold on to his 23rd District seat in the state Senate. Bradley is facing felony campaign finance charges.

Interview highlights

John Henry Smith: What was your reaction when you heard about Levy winning the primary?

Jonathan Wharton: I was more taken aback with the results that Peter Lumaj [the third candidate in the GOP primary] was able to cut into both candidates, because he came out to almost close to 10% [of the vote]. And so that was interesting to see a higher threshold for him. And then the results, obviously for Levy to get the results that she did to win at 51%.

Smith: So when you combine Lumaj with nearly 10%, with what Levy was able to get, you get a fairly resounding victory for the ultra-conservative wing of the Republican Party,

Wharton: The Connecticut Republican Party, in particular, is divided into several camps. And the assumption is that on the one hand, the majority of Republicans affiliated with the party directly, at least, are Trump supporters, which they are. And that is certainly indicated in the case. And so it's kind of interesting that not only did the [Trump] endorsement matter last week, but even less so from the Republican Party itself from the convention back in May, because Themis Klarides was the endorsed candidate by the state party.

Smith: The fact that Levy’s now the Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate — does that mean all the state Republicans fall in line or does she have fences to mend? She had made accusations that Themis Klarides and Peter Lumaj had sort of ganged up on her in a televised debate. Does she have some people to win over in the Republican Party?

Wharton: There are some fences to mend. Let’s face it, some of those debates were pretty negative. And I was kind of taken aback at how it did go there. So that’s got, that has to be addressed. ... When I was on political campaigns, I addressed the same thing, to people who are fighting it out in the primaries, the first week, we all met as campaigns and I said: “We have to find a pathway out to working together.” But that tends to be the big Achilles heel for Connecticut Republicans. We tend to be divisive towards one another. And we tend not to be very good healers or working with one another.

Smith: You talk about endorsed candidates — while Themis Klarides lost, the two Democratic Party endorsed candidates, Stephanie Thomas [for secretary of the state] and Erick Russell [for state treasurer] both won their primaries. So was there any referendum last night on party endorsements?

Wharton: What's interesting … is we saw even lighter turn turnout for Democrats and Republicans, it appears as though it was maybe 5% less, about closer to 15%, who did show up on the Democratic side. So that says something a lot about party endorsement, especially on the Democratic side.

Learn more
Listen to an extended conversation in the player above.

These interview highlights have been edited for clarity.

Note: Themis Klarides is married to Gregory B. Butler, who is a member of Connecticut Public's Board of Trustees. 

John Henry Smith is Connecticut Public’s host of All Things Considered, its flagship afternoon news program. In his 20th year as a professional broadcaster, he’s covered both news and sports.

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