Trump’s endorsement of Levy — and any other GOP hopefuls — a mixed picture in CT

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A lingering question throughout Leora Levy’s campaign for the Republican U.S. Senate nomination — would she receive the endorsement former President Donald J. Trump? — became clear as it unfolded in public Thursday night.

Trump’s backing of Levy arrived in a surprise call to Levy at an annual summer barbecue hosted by the Montville Republican Town Committee. Levy’s two rivals, Themis Klarides, the former Republican state House leader, and Peter Lumaj, an immigration attorney, were in the crowd as Levy played Trump’s endorsement through her cell phone, into a microphone.

It is the first endorsement by Trump of a Connecticut candidate since leaving office.

But will the support of Trump, who got 39 percent of Connecticut’s vote to President Joe Biden’s 59 percent in the 2020 election, boost Levy in Tuesday’s primary against a moderate and fellow conservative hardliner? And if Levy wins the primary, what will the Trump stamp mean in the general election race against Sen. Richard Blumenthal?

It’s a question that’s playing out nationally for the GOP this primary season as conservative, pro-Trump candidates seek to unseat establishment Republicans. Most of Trump’s endorsements have come in red states or at least swing states.

The Trump endorsement appears to add up to to a mixed picture in blue Connecticut, one that Republicans recognize is a gamble. In the biggest example, the campaign of Bob Stefanowski, the GOP candidate for governor, confirmed late Thursday that he is not seeking the ex-president’s endorsement.

Stefanowksi received Trump’s endorsement when he first ran for governor in 2018.

Other high-profile GOP candidates in the state are seeking to distance themseves from Trump this election cycle. Klarides has said publicly that she did not vote for Trump in 2020 and that she would have to see who the other candidates were before saying whether she would support him in 2024.

Klarides, the party-endorsed candidate, recently touted the endorsement of Erin Stewart, the Republican mayor of New Britain who for years kept a photo of herself with former President Barack Obama in her office, from a 2012 Obama visit.

Levy and Lumaj, who are competing for the conservative base, both said in a debate last week at WTNH-News 8 they would support Trump if he were the Republican candidate for president in 2024.

In a written statement late Thursday, Levy, a longtime Greenwich resident, praised Trump’s endorsement of “principled, conservative outsiders” to the U.S. Senate, saying it’s the “first step to restoring America to greatness.”

“To be endorsed by a true America-first patriot means everything to me and to the voters in Connecticut,” Levy said. “President Trump’s endorsement proves to voters that all states are in the running to flip red, but it will only be possible if we have the best candidates on the November ballot.”

It was not clear whether Levy sought Trump’s support.

The endorsement does not change Klarides’ focus, she said in a statement.

“This does not change my message, my priorities, or my greatest strength—that the voters of Connecticut know that I’m the only one capable of winning that fight,” she said. “I’ve fought Dan Malloy and won, I’ve fought Ned Lamont and won, this will be no different. I am the only candidate who can accomplish the ultimate goal of winning a United States Senate race, and I trust Connecticut Republicans to recognize that. “

Trump’s name is likely to draw voters to the polls during a primary, even in reliably blue Connecticut, where he is largely unpopular. And Connecticut Democrats are working hard to tie Republicans to Trump whether or not they invoke his name.

“Bob Stefanowski tries to distance himself from extremists and an anti-choice agenda. Tonight, his friend Trump joined him in endorsing the same candidate for Senate who enjoys his financial support,” Nancy DiNardo, chair of Connecticut Democrats, said in a written statement Thursday night, referring to Stefanowski making the maximum $5,800 in contributions this year to Levy.

“Their agenda is clear and it is too extreme for Connecticut,” DiNardo said, repeating a frequent Democratic Party line.

In a written statement issued Thursday, Trump said Levy is a “tireless advocate” for Connecticut and for conservative values, and that, if elected, she would protect the Second Amendment, secure the border, and support military personnel and veterans.

Much of his statement targeted Blumenthal, who he called “a mocked and laughed at fool,” resurrecting a frequent attack against the senator’s incorrect claim years ago that he served in Vietnam. Trump also took aim at Klarides, calling her weak on crime and saying she would not protect “our under siege Second Amendment” and has “no chance of beating Blumenthal.”

Levy and Klarides have both had complex relationships with the Trump brand. Levy, whose family immigrated from Cuba after the Castro revolution when she was a small child, was nominated twice as U.S. ambassador to Chile by Trump. She did not receive a confirmation vote in the Senate.

In 2016 and before, she was a moderate Republican, supporting Mitt Romney, the 2012 GOP candidate for president, when she called herself strongly pro-choice. In a 2016 op-Ed in the Greenwich Time supporting Jeb Bush for president, Levy slammed the media for giving Trump a pass.

“Trump has turned the Republican primary process into a circus for his own purposes and his own aggrandizement. He is vulgar, ill-mannered and disparages those whom he cannot intimidate,” Levy wrote.

Klarides, of Madison, introduced Trump at a rally in Bridgeport in 2016 and was a Trump delegate that year in Cleveland. She publicly and privately spoke against many of his moves as president.

Klarides and Lumaj both downplayed the importance of the Trump endorsement of Levy, The CT Mirror reported.

Klarides has received the support of many establishment Republicans in Connecticut. Among the local party committees endorsing her: Montville’s, the host of Thursday’s moment for Levy.

Hearst CTInsider columnist Dan Haar contributed reporting.