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Connecticut Senate candidate uses Trump's backing sparingly

Republican U.S. Senate candidate Leora Levy steps out of the main room of the primary night election watch party to take a congratulatory phone call from former president Donald Trump. Levy defeated Themis Klarides in tonight’s primary and will face incumbent U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal.
Mark Mirko
Connecticut Public
Republican U.S. Senate candidate Leora Levy takes a congratulatory phone call from former president Donald Trump after she defeated Themis Klarides in a primary. Levy is running against incumbent U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal.

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — She’s the only statewide candidate running in Connecticut this year to be endorsed by former President Donald Trump, but Republican Leora Levy has been cautious in mentioning his political support during her race against Democratic U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal.

Levy, a first-time candidate and Republican National Committee member, thanked Trump for “having my back” after winning the August primary in an upset, promising “I will not let you down.” But she has often deflected questions about the controversial former president in the months that have followed.

“Trump is not on the ballot,” she recently told a reporter. “And if there’s any president’s name on the ballot, it’s Joe Biden, because of his failed policies.”

Like many GOP candidates this year, Levy has instead focused her campaign heavily on affordability, crime and parents’ rights issues. And she contends her message resonates with voters in this politically blue state, despite conventional wisdom that Trump’s endorsement, coupled with her opposition to abortion rights and other conservative stances, will hurt her in the general election.

“The failed economic policies of the Biden administration, rubber-stamped by Dick Blumenthal, have made life unaffordable for everybody,” she said in a recent interview with The Associated Press, when asked why she thinks she can win this year.

National Republican optimism has grown in recent weeks that anti-Democratic political headwinds will help underdog candidates initially considered a risky choice for the GOP. However, it’s questionable whether those winds will be strong enough to help Levy defeat Blumenthal, a well-known two-term U.S. senator, former state attorney general and U.S. attorney. A recent Quinnipiac Poll showed likely voters preferred Blumenthal over Levy by a 15-point margin.

Levy believes the race is much closer.

“Democrats will come up to me, they’ll whisper, ‘Don’t tell anybody, but I’m voting for you,’” Levy said. Her campaign was buoyed by news that the National Republican Senatorial Committee was spending money for the first time on TV ads in the race, though the amount was small: $100,000.

Blumenthal has maintained a huge lead when it comes to campaign funds. As of Oct. 19, he still had more than $3 million in cash on hand, while Levy, who lent her campaign $1.7 million, had $432,156 left to spend.

The two-term Democratic senator’s campaign has focused much of its spending on TV ads, often reminding voters that Levy is Trump’s favored candidate. Blumenthal is hoping the message will resonate in a state where the same Quinnipiac Poll showed 62% of likely voters have an unfavorable opinion of the former president.

On Wednesday night, during the only debate in the race, Blumenthal doubled-down on Levy's ties to Trump. He said that his opponent telling the former president that “I will always have your back” means she's out of sync with Connecticut voters.

“If you always have President Trump’s back, you can’t have Connecticut's back,” he said. “If you’re 100% Trump, that’s 100% wrong for Connecticut."

Levy portrayed Trump’s endorsement like any other she has received.

“I'm a uniter,” she said. “I’ve been endorsed by a lot of people in our party.”

Blumenthal has used Trump’s endorsement of Levy as a fundraising tool, often referring to her as his “Trump-backed opponent” in messages to donors. His campaign recently sent out an email with a photo of Levy appearing last month with Trump at his Mar-a-Lago club in Florida for a Levy campaign fundraiser. Trump has not visited Connecticut to campaign for her.

“When speaking to the voters of our state, my GOP opponent has been trying to pretend she’s not a puppet of Donald Trump — but her extremist record and recent pilgrimage to genuflect before him tell a very different story,” Blumenthal says in the fundraising email to supporters.

A former commodities trader who immigrated to the U.S. from Cuba as a young girl, Levy was Trump’s nominee for ambassador to Chile but was never confirmed. She’s known in national Republican circles for her fundraising abilities.

Levy wasn’t the first choice for state Republican leaders to run for the U.S. Senate. At the party’s convention this spring, delegates endorsed former state House Minority Leader Themis Klarides, a socially moderate Republican who supports abortion rights and some gun control measures.

But Levy, who supported former Republican Florida Gov. Jeb Bush in the 2016 presidential election and wrote at the time in an op-ed that Trump was “vulgar, ill-mannered and disparages those whom he cannot intimidate," surprised many by winning the primary. It came days after receiving Trump’s endorsement, which was announced over speakerphone at a GOP picnic. Moderate Republicans quickly took to social media, predicting they had lost their chance to finally defeat Blumenthal.

Levy declined to discuss what she acknowledged was a “contentious primary,” maintaining that the state’s Republican Party is now united behind her candidacy.

“I’m looking forward. Let’s talk about the future and why I’m going to win this election,” she said. “I’m going to win this election because Connecticut voters don’t want to live like this anymore.”

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

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