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May 21, 2024

CT GOP conventions: George Logan, Jahana Hayes rematch set

SHAHRZAD RASEKH / CT MIRROR George Logan speaks to the press after securing the 5th District's Republican endorsement.

Republicans on Monday endorsed unopposed congressional candidates for rematches in the two Connecticut districts slightly less hostile to the GOP in presidential years: George Logan in the competitive 5th, and Mike France in the 2nd, a far more difficult race against a long-serving Democrat.

Logan, 55, a former state senator, was the GOP’s strongest performer in the midterm election two years ago, losing by 2,004 votes to Jahana Hayes, a three-term Democrat who drew just 50.4% of vote in the closest race by far of her three campaigns. He is widely seen as the GOP’s best hope.

The inflation rate during President Joe Biden’s term, his insistence on forgiving student debt and his failure to control the border were the only issues Logan mentioned in a brief acceptance speech that offered sharp criticism of Hayes’ support for the Democratic president, while avoiding mention of Donald J. Trump.

France, 61, a former state representative, is running again in the 2nd, a district with pockets of support for Trump. But the incumbent is Joe Courtney, a Democrat who has won handily since unseating a Republican by just 83 votes in 2006. Two years ago, he beat France by 18 percentage points.

On a night when Republicans nominated or endorsed candidates in all five congressional districts, the party’s state chair, Ben Proto, attended Logan’s convention at Watertown High School, branding it as the year’s marquee race for a GOP that last won a congressional election in 2006.

“This is clearly the best opportunity in New England for a Republican to [flip] a congressional seat,” Proto said. All five congressional seats in Connecticut are held by Democrats who were nominated without opposition last week.

Two of the five GOP nominations were contested, and it was unclear Monday night if the 2nd-place finishers would pursue primaries in the 3rd or 4th districts in August. Both obtained at least the 15% of the convention vote necessary to automatically qualify.

Bob MacGuffie, a former Tea Party leader, won a second-ballot endorsement in the 4th District to challenge U.S. Rep. Jim Himes, but Michael Goldstein won the right to primary, as he did two years ago. Michael Massey was endorsed to challenge U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro in the 3rd District, but Rafael Irizarry could primary.

Jim Griffin was endorsed without opposition in the 1st District to challenge U.S. Rep. John B. Larson.

In Watertown, Logan was in Trump territory.

In 2022, Trump won by 26 percentage points in Watertown, one of the solid Republican suburbs that nearly ring Waterbury, which gave Biden a 21-point win the same year. Other than a few attendees with MAGA hats, Trump had no presence at the convention.

Logan refused to say if he would have voted for a bipartisan immigration reform and border control bill that was crafted by U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy, a Democrat who once held the 5th District seat, in partnership with a Republican senator and an independent. It passed the Democratic Senate.

The Republican-controlled House blocked it at Trump’s insistence, denying Biden a victory and keeping the issue alive through the election. Logan declined to say if he would have defied Trump and supported passage.

“I would have reviewed it. I would have tried to make whatever changes we need to make it more amenable for the House,” Logan said. “But sure, I’m looking for a bipartisan deal in terms of the border.”

He faulted Biden for failing to take executive action tightening security at the border, saying the administration is allowing terrorists and criminals to enter. At the same time, he noted he was the son of immigrants from Guatemala.

In criticizing Biden’s push for forgiveness of student loans, Logan conflated today’s college students protesting U.S. support for Israel’s war on Hamas terrorists in Gaza with the beneficiaries of loan forgiveness.

“College tuition costs continue to rise, and incredibly, President Joe Biden wants to pay off student debt for those chanting, ‘Death to America.’ Who’s footing the bill?” Logan said. “Hardworking taxpayers who are having a hard time affording to put gas in their car.”

Logan cast himself as a moderate whose election would help move the House majority away from the extreme right.

Connecticut is a blue state with congressional Democrats dominant in the densely settled highway corridors that connect the state’s four largest cities, following I-91 south from Hartford in the 1st to New Haven in the 3rd, then southwest on I-95 through Bridgeport and Stamford in the 4th.

The 4th Congressional District — the last to be represented by a Republican — offered Biden his largest margin of victory in Connecticut in 2020.

Biden beat Trump by 31 points in the 4th, 28 points in the 1st and 20 points in the 3rd. To the east and west, Biden’s margins of victory were narrower, if still significant: 11.4% in the 2nd and 10.7% in the 5th.

In the 4th District, which encompasses most of Fairfield County and much of the state’s wealth, the race was contested among three candidates: Goldstein, a medical doctor from Greenwich; MacGuffie, a former Tea Party leader from Fairfield; and a conservative podcaster, Dan Miressi.

Signs outside the convention, which took place in the auditorium at Ludlowe High School in Fairfield, pledged to “Heave Himes!”

The first ballot was too close to call, with Miressi receiving 13 votes and MacGuffie and Goldstein receiving 65 and 56, so a second ballot was called between the two leading candidates. MacGuffie earned the nomination on the second ballot, winning 71-63.

In a fiery acceptance speech, MacGuffie denounced what he called “the fundamental transformation of America” and vowed to “stand before this insanity and yell, ‘Stop!’”

He painted himself as an antidote to the eight-term Democratic incumbent and did not mention Trump by name.

“We know how many genders there are. We know the definition of a woman. We know antisemitism as it rages across college campuses. And we know that crime doesn’t stop by releasing criminals,” he said.

MacGuffie wrapped up by calling on delegates to help deliver Republican and independent votes, and promising to show up anywhere to help them campaign.

“I was raised on the lower-middle-class schoolyards of Queens, and I know a thing or two about fighting a tough fight,” he said.

Logan was not the only winner to mention Biden and ignore Trump. 

France hit Courtney as a Biden loyalist.

“He is 100% aligned with Joe Biden,” France said during his acceptance speech at Norwich Free Academy. “We need to take back our country, restore law and order, restore the constitution, restore civility in our country. And it starts with Congress.”

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