HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — Leora Levy, a first-time political candidate who received a late endorsement from former President Donald Trump, won the Connecticut Republican primary for U.S. Senate in an upset Tuesday that could signal a shift for the state GOP after years of backing moderates.
A socially conservative member of the Republican National Committee, Levy defeated the party-endorsed candidate, former state House Minority Leader Themis Klarides, a social moderate, and fellow conservative Peter Lumaj.
She appeared stunned by the victory when she appeared before a cheering crowd of supporters in her hometown of Greenwich.
“We’re making history here. It’s really exciting,” she said. Levy thanked Trump for last week's endorsement, promising, “I will not let you down. Thank you for having my back.”
Klarides, who supports abortion rights and certain gun control measures, told her supporters that she had called to congratulate Levy, who ran TV ads accusing the veteran state legislator of “not being one of us." Both Levy and Lumaj had argued that a conservative candidate was needed to defeat Democratic U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal in November.
Klarides argued her moderate positions on issues like abortion would persuade Connecticut voters in the general election to oust Blumenthal, who has been in office since 2011. She focused her campaign heavily on economic issues, including inflation and gas prices.
Levy, 65, came with her family from Cuba to the U.S. in 1960. Her grandfather was president of the Vertientes-Camaguey Sugar Company in Havana. She graduated from Brown University in 1978 and worked in the financial industry, including as a commodities trader at Philbro Salomon.
She was a relative unknown when she first jumped into the race. Lumaj said Tuesday night Trump’s late endorsement “absolutely” affected the contest and gave Levy the advantage.
“This is a huge victory for President Trump in our state,” he told WTNH in an interview from a restaurant in Norwich where his supporters gathered. “That changed everything. The primary voters have spoken. They still support the president regardless of who the endorsed candidate is.”
Connecticut hasn't elected a Republican to the U.S. Senate since Lowell P. Weicker Jr., who served from 1971 to 1989.
Art Shilosky, a Republican and former first selectman of Colchester, said he doesn't believe that nominating a candidate endorsed by Trump would finally end that drought for the GOP. He also questioned whether Trump's endorsement would help Levy.
“No, I don’t think that’s a good mix,” Shilosky said outside a polling place where he voted for Klarides. “I think the Republicans in the state of Connecticut are more moderate than he (Trump) is. He’s too far out. People don’t relate to that. I don't.”
Turnout was light on Tuesday. Newly appointed Secretary of the State Mark Kohler said the polls were “pretty quiet” for his first election, with only a handful of reports of some tabulating machines “sticking a little bit in the heat.” He said the procedure for such a situation is to put the ballots in a secure auxiliary bin and count them later.
Meanwhile, Republicans in the state’s 4th Congressional District chose the party-endorsed candidate, Darien First Selectman Jayme Stevenson, over Michael Goldstein, a doctor and lawyer from Greenwich. The winner will challenge Democratic U.S. Rep. Jim Himes in November.
Voters on Tuesday also chose candidates to replace longtime Secretary of the State Denise Merrill, a Democrat who resigned in June to care for her ailing husband.
In the Republican race, conservative Dominic Rapini, a sales executive for Apple and the party's endorsed candidate, defeated state Rep. Terrie Wood, a Republican from Darien.
Rapini has called for tightening ID requirements and cleaning the state’s voter rolls. He says he is suspicious about voter fraud especially in the state's largest city of Bridgeport where various state and local officials have been charged over the years with election fraud — from allegedly conspiring to fraudulently obtain public campaign funds, to allegedly falsifying voter registration applications and absentee ballots applications.
Rapini is a former board chairman of a group called Fight Voter Fraud Inc., which was founded by a woman who filed dozens of complaints in Connecticut about alleged voter fraud during the 2020 election. Around the time Rapini left the group, the State Election Enforcement Commission dismissed most of the complaints, calling the them a “waste of the limited investigatory resources of the Commission.”
Wood has also expressed support for new voter ID laws in Connecticut.
On the Democratic side, State Rep. Stephanie Thomas of Norwalk defeated New Haven Health Director Maritza Bond. Each of them had pledged to oppose Republican attempts to tighten voting rules.
Thomas, who is Black, has said such restrictions hit close to home, considering her father grew up during the 1940s in Georgia and never really learned to read and her mother worked two jobs for most of her life and didn’t drive. It took an hour-long bus ride and a long walk along a highway to reach the nearest department of motor vehicles branch to register to vote.
“So when Republicans make it harder to vote, it’s folks like my mom they’re targeting,” she said in a recent commercial.
Democrats also voted to nominate Erick Russell, an attorney who specializes in municipal finances, to fill the job of state Treasurer, which is being vacated by Democrat Shawn Wooden. Russell was up against Dita Bhargava, the chief operating officer of a private investment fund, and Karen Dubois-Walton, who oversees New Haven’s Housing Authority.
Susan Haigh, The Associated Press