Connecticut governor candidates look to break out from pack

- FILE - Connecticut State Capitol in Hartford (WTNH / Mark Davis)

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — Candidates and potential candidates for Connecticut governor in 2018 find themselves in the largest pool of contenders in recent memory, and they’re looking for ways to stand apart from the pack.

Many point to their career experiences, whether it has been in politics, business or the military. Others tout their ability to attract support from unaffiliated voters. Some offer headline-making proposals, such as Republican Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton proposing to scrap the personal income tax over the next decade.

And some are using President Donald Trump and Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy as political foils to highlight their positions as the state political conventions approach.

Democrat and retired business executive Guy Smith proudly tells voters and delegates that he’s not part of the “governing class.” Rather, he plugs his varied experiences, which include serving as a special adviser to former President Bill Clinton, as well as his strong opposition to the policies of Trump and congressional Republicans. Smith expects to be the toughest Trump critic among the Democratic gubernatorial contenders.

“We need people to stand up,” said Smith, who expects to challenge GOP candidates on their support of Trump. “If they’re Republican, they need to renounce this Trump-Republican stuff. If they don’t renounce it, it means they’re complicit in it. And I’m going to be calling them out on it.”

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More than two dozen Democrats, Republicans and independents have expressed an interest in Connecticut’s top job. With a few exceptions, many of the candidates have scant name recognition and little-to-no record of holding elective office. Scott McLean, a Quinnipiac University political science professor, said the atmosphere is ripe for an unknown candidate.

“I wouldn’t want to write off any of these players, any of these candidates right now, especially because we don’t know them,” McLean said. “They may shine in a debate. They may say something that’s widely quoted and becomes more listened to.”

Everyone already seems to have a pitch. Democrat and former Department of Consumer Protection Commissioner Jonathan Harris, an attorney, former mayor and state legislator who is exploring a run for governor, says he has “by far, the broadest base of public and private sector experience.”

Republican attorney Peter Lumaj claims he’s the only true conservative and “complete outsider” in the race. Westport Republican Steve Obstinik, a technology consultant, says he brings a CEO’s “problem-solving” skills to the job, while Republican and former U.S. Comptroller David Walker marketed himself at a recent GOP debate as a “change agent.”

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On Wednesday, Greenwich businessman Ned Lamont, arguably one of the better-known contenders, jumped into the race. Lamont defeated former U.S. Sen. Joe Lieberman in the 2006 Democratic primary but later lost to Lieberman, who ran as an independent, in the general election. Lamont said he stands out from the pack.

“I think I’m a pretty different breed of cat,” he said. “I think people know I’m willing to stand up and tell the truth.”

Boughton, meanwhile, drew recent attention for his plan to eliminate the personal income tax, the state’s largest revenue generator. He acknowledges there have been some skeptics. But Boughton sees it as an opportunity to show he’s a candidate who can “reach across party lines” while offering a new way of thinking.

“We’re making that bureaucratic assumption that Connecticut’s government has to be the way it is because that’s the way it’s always been,” he said. “And I say, ‘Hey no, this is an opportunity for us folks. This is an opportunity for us to really redesign state government and right-size it to the 21st century.'”

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