Markley: Out-of-Staters Misread Connecticut

Christine Stuart PhotoThe advice came from Virginia. It bombed in Connecticut.

That’s part of Joe Markley’s take on Connecticut’s 2018 gubernatorial campaign. it informs his take on how Connecticut’s Republicans should rebuild their party.

Markley had a stake in the 2018 campaign: He ran as the lieutenant governor candidate on the Republican ticket with gubernatorial candidate Bob Stefanowski. Many observers (including top-tier Democrats who decided against running) thought 2016 would be a Republican year. Instead, Stefanwoski and all other statewide Republicans lost, and Democrats won near-super-majorities in the two legislative chambers.

That happened for various reasons, perhaps chief among them a grassroots outpouring of Democratic votes motivated by opposition to President Donald Trump.

In the case of Stefanowski’s campaign, Markley argued that misplaced advice from the Virginia-based main campaign consultant, Chris LaCivita (who also advised Linda McMahon on an unsuccessful U.S. Senate campaign), contributed to the loss.

“These out-of-state consultants are blind,” Markley, who supported Stefanowski in the Republican primary, said during an appearance Wednesday on WNHH FM’s “Dateline New Haven” program. “They are obsessed with counties. You have to say, ‘There is no such thing as counties in Connecticut.’”

Reached by email, LaCivita declined comment.  “Joe is entitled to his opinion ... even if he never made them known during the campaign,” LaCivita wrote.

Markley, an outgoing state senator who has had among the most conservative voting records in Hartford, identified five key strategic decisions that backfired for Stefanowski:

• The decision to focus on redder communities rather than hit all 169 towns and cities, including New Haven. Stefanowski could have run up more votes in the Annex neighborhood, for instance, if he had shown up there, Markley argued. “You don’t want to give people the impression that you’re blowing them off — which he did.”

• The decision to limit media interviews. Markley said Stefanowski should have sought all the radio and TV interviews he could get, and would have projected well.

• The late decision to focus on an in-state vote-pulling “ground game” to compete against the Democrats’ operations, rather than relying pretty much just on TV ads.

• The decision to focus almost exclusively on one issue: Cutting taxes. Markley credited Stefanowski for remaining disciplined and on message, but argued he could have appealed to more voters by adding a couple of issues to the campaign quiver. Maybe three issues. No need for 12. “You want to give the impression there is more to your campaign” than one issue, Markley concluded.

• The decision to hire key staffers, including a press spokesperson, from out of state. It helps to know local reporters and local issues in promoting a candidate, he argued.

Looking ahead, Markley advocated a 169-town GOP strategy, including “building the party in the cities.” And he advocated resisting the temptation to appeal for votes in the middle and toward the left.

“Do we lose because we’re tot conservative? Or do we lose because we’re not clear enough about where we stand?” Markley asked. His answer: The latter.

Click on the video for the full episode of WNHH’s “Dateline New Haven” with Joe Markley.

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posted by: Xavier on December 6, 2018  8:19am

Suggestion #1: If the Republican party were less than obstructionist, racist, a-holes, I might listen to what they have to say. Get rid of chairperson Romano. (Maybe Markley?)

Suggestion #2: Stop putting up billionaire business capitalist, nationalist, tea-partiers candidates with one campaign slogan, reduce taxes. Republicans should look at the large independent voter block, who, like me, can not stand the one party (Democrat) rule in CT, but who also are looking for a more practical approach to governing. Drop the social conservative moniker. Drop the “I am a business person, and so I can run a government,” because governing is not about profit.

Suggestion #3: Set your sights on actually winning. The Trump Base is too base for Connecticut (and dare I say, the nation). CT Republicans need to draw are sharper distinction between the Republican party of Wisconsin, Michigan, and Trump, and the Republican party of CT. Who knows, maybe CT Republicans can set a new tone for the Republicans nationally?

posted by: AverageTaxpayer on December 6, 2018  10:47am

Ideological whack-jobs are the problem with Connecticut’s GOP. Markley should look in the mirror and realize that his extreme positions just don’t sell well in the Land of Steady Habits.

posted by: Joe Markley on December 6, 2018  11:14am

In response to Chris LaCivita’s comment in this article, I would say that listening is not his strength.  The first time we met after the primary, he asked what I thought of the campaign so far; I said it was terrible.  When he asked what I thought was wrong, the first thing I mentioned was lack of in-state input.  I offered to recommend able people, or at the least to weigh in on potential hires, but my opinion was never solicited.

It seemed clear to me that LaCivita responds to pressure, not to reason.  The last thing I wanted was to disrupt the campaign: if I’m not in charge I’m happy to offer my opinion, but I won’t throw a tantrum.

posted by: TheYankeesWin on December 6, 2018  1:22pm

Stefanowski’s one note campaign wasn’t understood in the cities and failed to resonate - they only heard program cuts. His weekends spent in the blue collar suburbs was wasted time - preaching to the choir. In the end a mediocre candidate running a bad campaign, and here we are.

posted by: cellardoor on December 6, 2018  3:04pm

“Do we lose because we’re tot conservative? Or do we lose because we’re not clear enough about where we stand?” Markley asked.

You lose because you have become the party of Trump, and there still are enough voters in Connecticut who know a con when they see one. A Yankee version of Kansas’s Sam Brownback is not appealing, either.  Find some uncorrupted candidates who are interested in rational, empirically-proven principles of governance and not demagoguery, and you might succeed.

posted by: boxerct on December 6, 2018  6:36pm

He lost because nobody believed that he could cut the income tax and still balance a budget.  Every single person knows that money has to come from somewhere, and you can’t just reduce spending by 65% to cover the loss of revenue the income tax provides.  Basically, he lost because the majority of people in CT are not idiots, and most of us still know how to balance a check book.

posted by: artythesmarty on December 8, 2018  8:38am

Both Stefanowski and Foley tried to placate the government workers and teachers saying his cuts would not effect them.  The problem is that every government worker and teacher I know(and I know many) would never vote for a Republican regardless.  Every govt/ed worker (including dump workers and lunch workers) vote Democratic but most low skilled private sector don’t vote.  In addition, suburban women can’t disassociate Republicans from Trump due to simple minded media so will vote democratic to “send a message”.  A mess for the Conn private sector and has been since late 80’s, by the same token i know a number of supposedly low paid teachers and govt high level clerks(paralegals, etc) who ending up making 90k plus and have great pensions at age 62.  Why wouldn’t the vote Democratic..many move out of state complaining taxes too high

posted by: cmonagan on December 8, 2018  11:38am

Connecticut Republicans have completely ignored the potential power of the underticket for the last three gubernatorial elections. Instead of recruiting a diverse, energetic group of known candidates from cities and large towns, they’ve gone with anonymous white people from, mostly, small suburban towns. Not helpful at all. Democrats, meanwhile, went with a diverse group who added life to the ticket and no doubt helped them win over some wavering votes. Ticket building seems to be a lost art to the GOP, but their leadership is astonishingly unimaginative and resistant to winning strategies. A good lead candidate is always the best thing, of course, but don’t sleep on that underticket!

posted by: Redwavewomen on December 9, 2018  9:20am

I am an avid Stefanowski supporter. I agree with some of what Joe said. But first, , I do not appreciate Tim Scott ranting weekly on Todd Feinberg about the cockroach consultants. It was my understanding that it was Chris and Pat the campaign manager along with a close circle of friends from CT. Scott makes it sound like hordes of people.  I also understand that it was Joe and Tim that ran the show through the primary and that as Tim stated, did not encourage Bob to go into the cities, which many of us disagreed with. I appreciated the campaign msg but it needed to be crafted so it connected to all voters.  Bob lost because the RTCs, and it also appeared that Joe was not behind him. Then there was the anti-Trump factor. Lastly, Republicans do not know how to get out the vote. But I am angry at Joe and Tim for bashing Bob when they should have been forceful during the general election to have him change course. If you remained silent because you felt it wasn’t your place then shame on both of you. That is when you needed to speak up and out. Not now. Too late. You two contributed to the loss and going to the VCs to convince his people to change course was done behind his back. I didn’t see you out campaigning in full force either and those little pep meetings were worthless.  Bob is a good man and yes, should have stuck to local people and gone into every city and town.  He had a year but were not Joe and Tim advising him then?  If not, who was?  Lots of lessons learned but he was a good candidate. He would have reduced the income tax to the lowest amount possible. Those of you who did not believe it could be done are the foolish ones. There is so much wasteful spending and lack of priorities. Bob would have cleaned house. That is what everyone was afraid of. Shame on everyone who did not vote for him.

posted by: cunningham on December 9, 2018  10:19am

“He was a good candidate, he just did everything wrong.” OK. He was a terrible candidate. He had a platform with a single, non-workable issue* and went out of his way not to talk to people about it. It was a vanity campaign waged by a bored oligarch. That he managed to win the primary is probably the most telling thing about the current state of the CT Republican party to come out of 2018.

*Sorry, we know exactly how much cutting the income tax would lose the state in revenue. But neither Stefanowski nor anyone else that I’ve seen has been able to account for proposed spending cuts beyond gesturing broadly at “wasteful spending.”