Vote 2022: Republican race for Senate could be conservative litmus test
Instead of having cake, Themis Klarides spent her birthday working the phones and raising money.
"You can give me $5,800 per person," she told a potential donor.
Klarides is one of the three Republicans who want to challenge Sen. Richard Blumenthal this fall. Next Tuesday, GOP voters will pick their candidate in a primary. The outcome could determine the direction of the Connecticut Republican Party.
"I am a proven fighter, a proven winner, and I'm the only one who can beat Dick Blumenthal,” Klarides said.
The former Connecticut House Republican leader is considered the front-runner. She’s won 11 previous elections, negotiated the state’s first bipartisan budget in decades, and received the official party endorsement.
But Klarides’ opponents say she’s not conservative enough. Unlike many Republican politicians, Klarides vocally supports abortion rights and voted for the 2013 Sandy Hook gun law that banned assault rifles and extended magazines.
News 12 asked Klarides if the Republican Party has moved to the right of her.
"I think maybe it has a little bit, you know, nationally,” she said. “I think Connecticut Republicans, Northeast Republicans, are different."
Klarides' opponents disagree.
Leora Levy is a Cuban immigrant and former Wall Street trader from Greenwich. She’s also an ardent supporter of former President Donald Trump. The former president even nominated Levy to be ambassador to Chile.
Trump endorsed Levy Thursday night in a surprise phone call to the Montville Republican Town Committee.
In a statement, Trump blasted Blumenthal for misrepresenting his military service in Vietnam and criticized Klarides for being "endorsed by three of the Worst RINOs in the Country," GOP governors Larry Hogan, Charlie Baker, and Chris Christie.
Trump added, "Leora Levy, on the other hand, has done a fantastic job in life. She has served on the Republican National Committee, and is a tireless advocate for Connecticut and for Conservative Values."
She sees parallels between herself and Trump.
"People want an outsider,” Levy said. “It's the career politicians who got us into this mess.”
Asked about Trump’s scandals and unpopularity among Connecticut Republicans, Levy said: "Well, look at the policies. Look at the country under President Trump."
Also in the hunt is Peter Lumaj, a Fairfield attorney who unsuccessfully ran for office four times in the last decade.
Lumaj is courting votes in Connecticut’s inner cities, where he says Democrats have failed voters.
"I think the Republicans are going to have to do a lot of work in the cities in order for us to win,” said Lumaj. “And we have to provide an alternative to what's happening in these cities, including Bridgeport, Hartford, New Haven."
All three agree on most issues: opposing President Joe Biden’s agenda, lowering gas prices and increasing domestic energy production, fewer taxes and regulations, tougher borders, and more police funding.
"We're all never going to agree on everything, but we're going to agree on way more than we disagree on,” said Klarides.
One thing they all agree on: defeating Blumenthal. Who can do it, is the question.
"It matters who we nominate,” said Levy. “We will not defeat Blumenthal with another candidate who is just like he is -- career politician."
Lumaj says he’s not afraid to say he’s a conservative Republican, even in a “blue” state like Connecticut.
"If voters want another Liz Cheney in the United States Congress, they would get Themis,” he said. “If they want another Ted Cruz, they should get Peter Lumaj."
Republicans and Democrats are both holding primaries next Tuesday. You must be registered to a party to vote, which excludes unaffiliated voters, the largest bloc in the state.
In addition to U.S. Senate, there are contested primaries for secretary of the state and, on the Democrats’ side, state treasurer.