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November 27, 2023

Lamont open to 3rd term as CT governor, but others are lining up

MARK PAZNIOKAS / CTMIRROR.ORG Gov. Ned Lamont and Lt. Gov. Susan Bysiewicz, with Reps. Geraldo Reyes and Larry Butler, at campaign rally in Waterbury last year. She wants the top slot in 2026, if Lamont doesn't.

With pitches ranging from subtle to blunt, a preliminary campaign is underway for governor of Connecticut in 2026 — three years before the office will be on the ballot and as many as two years before Gov. Ned Lamont needs to say if he’ll retire or seek a third term.

Among the Democrats laboring to varying degrees to position themselves for a run, should the seat become open, it is Lamont’s running mate, Lt. Gov. Susan Bysiewicz, who has taken the most definitive step: She already is asking for commitments to support her.

Attorney General William Tong, Comptroller Sean Scanlon and Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin are touching many of the same bases, though Scanlon is urging Lamont to run again and Tong and Bronin say it is far too early to be seeking firm commitments.

Well aware of the politicking, Lamont insists he is neither offended by their efforts nor does he feel pressured by them to advance his own timetable.

“I think people do what people do, but I like the fact that people are letting me make up my mind on my timetable,” Lamont said. “And if they’re looking around, that’s their right.”

Lamont did not commit to seeking his second term until Nov. 8, 2021, a year before the 2022 election. His predecessor, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, did not formally rule out a third term until April 13, 2017, a year and a half before the 2018 election.

All four have made clear they would defer to Lamont, who currently is enjoying the highest job approval rating of any Democratic governor in the U.S., and would support him should he become the first Connecticut governor to seek a third term since Republican John G. Rowland in 2002.

Lamont, who turns 70 in January, said he is open to a third term.

“I love the job,” Lamont said. “I think the state’s doing pretty well. I’ve got a lot of guys encouraging me to run again, from all sides of the ideological spectrum. And I keep telling everybody, I don’t rule anything out. But I’m governing. I don’t want to get into the politics — I never do actually — but I’d like to delay it as long as I possibly can.”

Bysiewicz has been the clearest in stating her intentions to run in 2026, at least to some of the Democratic lawmakers, local officials and town committee members she has contacted in recent months. They say she is direct: She is running for governor in 2026 if Lamont does not, and she wants their support.

“Susan has asked for my commitment,” said Rep. Maria Horn, D-Salisbury.

“I’ve been asked,” said Shari Cantor, the mayor of West Hartford.

“I have been approached for support,” said Rep. Cristin McCarthy Vahey, D-Fairfield. “I also have had conversations with people who are just exploring the waters.”

Bysiewicz was the one who asked for support, McCarthy Vahey said. All three women declined to commit, saying it was too early.

In an interview, Bysiewicz neither contradicted those accounts nor acknowledged taking any steps towards becoming the third woman elected governor of Connecticut.

“The governor and I haven’t finished the first year of our second term,” Bysiewicz said. “My focus is, as is his, balancing the budget for the sixth time, paying down the debt, developing more affordable housing. That’s what our focus is. That’s what my focus is. It’s way too early to be speculating about the future.”

Bronin explored a run for governor in 2018 and makes no effort to hide his interest in an open 2026 race. 

“I‘m looking forward to catching my breath after eight years as mayor, and it feels really early to talk about an election that’s three years away when Gov. Lamont hasn’t said what he plans to do,” Bronin said. “But if people ask me if I’d think about running if the governor ultimately decides not to run, I answer honestly — yes.”

The calculus for Bysiewicz, 62, and Bronin, 44, is simpler than for Tong, 50, and the 36-year-old Scanlon. The latter two face a gamble: Seek reelection to their current jobs, or risk them in a push for higher office. Bysiewicz and Bronin have nothing to lose.

Bronin did not seek a third term as mayor in November and is exiting city hall at year’s end. If Lamont doesn’t run again, it’s either up or out for Bysiewicz.

Rep. Corey Paris, D-Stamford, a young member of the Black and Puerto Rican Caucus who is seen as a potential candidate for higher office some day, said Bysiewicz has not asked him for a commitment. But he added that neither Bysiewicz nor Bronin need to be explicit about their ambitions. 

“I speak to her pretty often, but I also speak to Luke Bronin,” Paris said. “They are obviously interested in leading the state.”

Without criticizing Bysiewicz by name, the other three effectively are advising Democrats to remain uncommitted.

“I feel like everybody needs to calm down and hold their horses,” Tong said. “We have a governor. He has every right and prerogative to decide what he’s going to do first, before anybody does anything.”

“We have one of the most popular governors in the country,” Bronin said. “He should get as much time as he wants to decide if he wants to run again, and there’s no reason anyone should feel any pressure to commit to anyone else this far out.” 

“We have a governor doing a great job,” Scanlon said. “And I don’t know why anybody would not be encouraging him to run for a third term.”

Aside from seeking commitments, Bysiewicz is helping herself by helping others, a strategy as old as politics. All four campaigned for municipal candidates this year, often crossing paths.

She created a political action committee in March, the Power of Women PAC, that  raised nearly $140,000 and spent $90,000 — all but $6,000 in contributions to local town committees and candidates for municipal office.

“I have been very active in making sure our party does very well. I am proud to invest in candidates,” Bysiewicz said.

The others have longstanding PACs but have not contributed nearly as much money. In 2023, Tong’s committee, Firewall PAC, spent $85,565, with $45,575 in contributions. Bronin’s Capital City spent $55,950, with $22,200 in contributions. Scanlon’s Sound CT PAC spent $15,750, all of it contributions to candidates or Democratic committees.

In April, Bysiewicz’s PAC gave $1,500 to Bernie Dennler, an early boost to a young Democrat who would unseat a Republican first selectman in Colchester. It was one of 29 maximum $1,500 contributions her PAC made. (Scanlon’s PAC gave him $250 in September, and Tong followed with $500 in October.)

Dennler said he was happy to accept when Bysiewicz offered to swear him in last weekend. Bysiewicz performed the same ceremony on Tuesday in Griswold and East Windsor.

The PAC is new. The outreach, gestures and favors are not.

Bronin, Tong and Scanlon engage in similar activities, but Bysiewicz has been doing it longer and, by many accounts, with more intensity.

“The lieutenant governor has been doing this for decades,” said Audrey Blondin, a long-serving member of the Democratic State Central Committee from Litchfield County. “She’s been so accessible, just building up these relationships.”

Blondin said Bronin also has been a visitor to the often overlooked towns in the state’s northwest corner, helping to raise money. 

Rep. Christine Palm, D-Chester, said there were open races for first selectman in two of the four towns she represents, and Bysiewicz was a presence.

“Two newbie women Democrats won, one by a squeaker and one comfortably,” Palm said. “Susan was there throughout.”

Paris said Bysiewicz has been generous to his efforts to raise money for Courage2Lead, a political action committee he formed to encourage young people to run for office. 

His PAC has fundraisers in Stamford and New Haven on Dec. 4 and one in Hartford on Dec. 5. Mandela Barnes, the first Black lieutenant governor of Wisconsin, is his co-host. Bysiewicz and Tong are listed as special guests.

Bysiewicz, who was elected secretary of the state in 1998, took her first steps towards a gubernatorial run nearly 20 years ago. Not long after Rowland resigned amid a corruption scandal in 2004, Bysiewicz opened a campaign committee to run for governor in 2006.

Ultimately, Rowland’s successor, M. Jodi Rell, proved to be a formidable candidate, and Bysiewicz opted for another term as secretary of the state. She opened an exploratory campaign for governor in 2010 and was a candidate in 2018, when she cut a deal to become Lamont’s running mate.

“She’s been a really good partner for me. I like working with her. And I stay in pretty close contact with her about all things substantive and political,” Lamont said. He added he is fine with her prepping for a 2026 run, so long as she says, “’But I’m gonna wait to see what my partner, the governor, is going to do first.’ And I think that’s what she’s been doing.”

Tong said he doesn’t feel any pressure to match Bysiewicz’s early campaigning, even if it seems geared to generating a sense of momentum through 2024 and into 2025. He was the top vote-getter, winning his second term in 2022, and his office makes him the most visible actor in state government after the governor.

Besides, Tong said, he may run for attorney general again. And there is a good chance there will be no open race for governor in 2026.

“I just spent some time with him at the first UConn women’s basketball game of the season,” Tong said. “I believe he is going to run again, and I think he should run again. And I look forward to supporting him.”

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