Longtime GOP operative Ben Proto elected chairman of the state Republican party

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Longtime GOP operative Ben Proto, a lawyer from Stratford, second from right, was elected chairman of the state Republican party Tuesday night.

Longtime GOP operative Ben Proto, a lawyer from Stratford, second from right, was elected chairman of the state Republican party Tuesday night.

Julia Bergman / Hearst Connecticut Media

Longtime GOP operative Ben Proto, a lawyer from Stratford, was elected chairman of the state Republican party Tuesday night.

In a speech after his win, Proto pledged to unite and rebuild the party, which saw losses in the General Assembly in 2018 and 2020.

“We’re not going to leave any stone unturned. Come next year we will have, if I have anything to say about, 151 candidates for the state House and 36 candidates for the state Senate,” Proto said.

He will serve a two-year term, serving a key role to help Republicans in 2022 gubernatorial and state legislative races.

Proto received overwhelming support from delegates to beat out three other candidates. Former GOP state Rep. Gary Byron, of Newington, a talk show host, got the second most votes, followed by Greenwich Republican Town Committee Chairman Jim Campbell.

Jennifer Cusato, of Fairfield, who worked as a senior staffer for state House Republicans, was also nominated to serve as chair but was disqualified from running because she lives and is registered to vote in Florida.

The election was held at Anthony’s Ocean View in New Haven. The election came five months after the abrupt resignation of former GOP party chair, J.R. Romano, a strong Trump supporter, who cited fundraising issues as the reason for his stepping down.

Republicans have not won the governorship nor any statewide race, nor a congressional contest in 15 years since 2006, when Gov. M. Jodi Rell was reelected and U.S. Rep. Chris Shays won the 4th Congressional District seat.

“We can’t win if we’re not working together,” he said.

Proto was a delegate for then-candidate Donald Trump in 2016 and led the former president’s campaign in Connecticut. He also helped to run the gubernatorial campaign of businessman Steve Obsitnik in 2018.

“What was really wonderful about this chairman’s race was that it was about each of us. There was no negativity. There was no attacking. There was no going after each other, which has not always been the case, Proto said in a brief interview after his election.

“I’m hopeful that’s a sign we can stop the circular firing squads and turn our fire on the Democrats and really move forward,” he said.

Proto got 69.5 votes; Byron 11.5 and Campbell 8.

Proto attributed lack of Republican success on statewide level in recent years to lack of unity among the party.

“We haven’t worked as well together as we could. My goal is to really work to create a better unified party, getting people to work together,” he said.

Late June before an election year is early enough for Proto to be solidly in place for the elections but not too early for that 2018 GOP gubernatorial candidate Bob Stefanowksi and former House GOP leader Themis Klarides, who has announced she is considering a run for governor, to work the room Tuesday night.

Stefanowksi’s wife, Amy, a member of the Republican State Central Committee and chair of the Madison Republican Town Committee, voted for Proto.

Proto’s strength is his established relationships with state and national party members, said state Rep. Rosa Rebimbas, R-Naugatuck, who nominated him for the chairmanship.

“We need someone who is willing to dive into the difficult topics and persuade people that the Republican party is their party of choice, if they want the opportunity to prosper, if they want the opportunity to preserve and exercise their freedoms. If they want to build a safe and stable environment for theIt families in the state that we all love,” Rebimbas said.

State prosecutor and vice chair of the party, Sue Hatfield was tapped in February to finish Romano’s term, but did not seek the chairmanship after that.