With Latino voters poised to again play a key role in electing Connecticut’s governor, several of the more than two dozen announced gubernatorial candidates already are positioned to seek support from this growing electorate in November.
At least four major contenders indicated they have named Hispanic Outreach coordinators, all volunteers, when CTLatinoNews.com recently reached out to 13 gubernatorial candidates, six from each major party and a leading independent.
A few other candidates, including Bridgeport Mayor Joseph Ganim and Jonathan Harris, both Democrats, said they are still building their campaign staffs, but have made overtures to the Latino community in advance of their parties’ nomination conventions in May.
Ganim, who is seeking the Democratic nomination, has hired Pedro Ramos of New Haven as director of communications. “I am Puerto Rican; a lot of our volunteers are Latinos,” Ramos said. Gathering support in the Hispanic communities is a priority for Ganim, he said.
Democrat Susan Bysiewicz is among the candidates with a Hispanic outreach coordinator, Val Ramos of Hamden. “Susan has made the state’s “Hispanic and Latino communities a priority,” said campaign manager Joe Fox. As secretary of state from 1999 to 2011, Bysiewicz saw the Hispanic electorate grow significantly, a process that is ongoing.
Other candidates with someone assigned to developing Latino support are Republicans Erin Stewart, the mayor of New Britain, and Mark Boughton, the mayor of Danbury, and Democrat Sean Connelly, former state veterans affairs commissioner.
Two of Democrat Ned Lamont’s lead field managers are Latinos, said his campaign manager Marc Bradley. “We have built an incredibly diverse campaign team that reflects all of Connecticut, including staff members from the Hispanic and Latino communities,” he said.
Ruben Rodriguez of Waterbury, founder of Latino Republican National Coalition of Connecticut, is overseeing Stewart’s Latino outreach committee. “We do have a great team working for her,” Rodriguez said, “and I’m happy to be part of that and we hope other candidates realize the importance of the Latino vote this year.”
Connelly, an attorney and veterans activist who lives in Hebron, reports that East Hartford council member Ram Aberasturia and Juan Cruz, president of the Hispanic Veterans of Connecticut, are campaign volunteers and support Hispanic outreach for his campaign.
Boughton replied to the Hispanic outreach inquiry by stating, “We have Edwin Duran as a volunteer now and will be looking for a few more folks.” Duran will not formally start until May 1, shortly before the GOP convention.
Meanwhile, Harris, a former West Hartford mayor and state senator, said he is currently working with a small staff and concentrating on “mounting the huge mountain” of gathering small, $100 maximum, contributions, to qualify for public financing. “When we get public financing, we will have Hispanic outreach and Latinos in other roles,” he said
The crucial role that Latino voters can play in a statewide election was evident in the 2014 gubernatorial contest. Democrat Dannel Malloy relied on a huge margin of victory in the heavily Hispanic cities to narrowly eke out re-election.
At that time, there were approximately 280,000 Hispanic eligible voters, who amounted to about 11 percent of Connecticut’s total electorate, according to the Pew Research Center.
There also was ample room for growth. Pew, relying on 2014 Census figures, found that some 52 percent of Hispanics in Connecticut were eligible to vote, as compared to 79 percent of the state’s white population were eligible to vote.
In the intervening years, there have been significant voter registration and turnout campaigns in the Latino communities, as well as a recent drive to register thousands of Puerto Ricans who have left their hurricane ravaged island and, for now, are living in Connecticut.
Appealing to the large concentrations of Latinos in the state’s largest cities has been a major focus for Ganim, said Ramos.
“That is our constituency, and we have not heard other platforms addressing urban issues,” he said.
Ganim’s campaign manager, Jackie James, also commented on the extent of the mayor’s connection to the Hispanic community. “Last month a breakfast was held in Waterbury and hosted by a group of statewide Latino leaders and they themselves titled the break “Latinos for Ganim,” James said, adding, “We also believe and we’re very supportive of a Latino on the statewide ticket.”
Stewart’s Hispanic coordinator Rodriquez cited “the work that she has done in New Britain with the only city that has a Barrio Latino and opened the doors to honor the Borinqueneers (Puerto Rican Korean War veterans) with a monument.”
Meanwhile, conservative Republican Peter Lumaj, an Albanian-born businessman and attorney, said he is focusing on gathering endorsements and votes for the state GOP convention which will be held May 11 and 12 at the Foxwoods casino and resort. “After that, we will “then reach out to primary voters,” said Lumaj, a Fairfield resident.
Four of the Democratic contenders, Harris, Connelly, Bysiewicz, and Guy Smith, former CEO of Americares, made brief pitches at a Connecticut Democratic Hispanic Caucus meet and greet April 4 in New Haven. Lamont sent representatives, according to a published report, and Ganim, who gave his State of the City address that evening, hopes to talk to the group later.
Harris said he has a long history with the caucus, reaching out to them when he was state Democratic chairman. He also said that in the party office and as West Hartford mayor and state consumer affairs commissioner, he had initiated efforts to empower Latino and other under-represented communities.
Independent Oz Grabiel , who views himself and lieutenant running mate Monte Frank as a third choice on the November ballot, currently has a limited staff, according to his campaign director Dean Pagani. “Oz and Monte have been reaching out personally to all voters through town meetings,” Pagani said.
Harris and Lumaj have indicated in press releases that they have Hispanic endorsements.
Harris, a former state senator and executive director of the Democratic Party, lists endorsements from Mayra Barrios, Democratic State Committee member from Bristol, and Carlos Lopez, a Hartford businessman.
Lumaj’s endorsers include Manny Espinosa, an 18-year-old party leader in Montville and Pablo Soto, a former Republican state committee member and 2014 legislative candidate from Meriden.
Lumaj said he has an affinity with other conservative Republicans such as Ruben Rodriguez, who is working for Stewart. He predicted, “When Erin Stewart drops out, we will get support from New Britain.”
Attempts to obtain comments from Republicans Tim Herbst of Trumbull, Mark Lauretti of Shelton, both mayors, and David Stemerman, who closed his Stamford hedge fund firm to run, were unsuccessful. Luke Bronin’s campaign acknowledged receiving the inquiry, but the Hartford mayor announced yesterday that he was bowing out of the 2018 gubernatorial race.