Republican candidates for governor, Congress, statewide office and the General Assembly played up their experience and ability to win against Democrats in the fall during a forum hosted Monday by the Fairfield Republican Town Committee.
About 60 people -- either political junkies or those not interested in college basketball -- were scattered among the seats in the Fairfield Ludlowe High School auditorium to hear more experienced Republican candidates say they will be onboard this fall to help win Republican seats.
Challengers, limited in public service, said their fresh faces and perspectives will make them attractive to the electorate.
What looms for all the hopefuls is next month's GOP statewide convention.
"It's children that really makes me most concerned," said Tom Foley, the Greenwich businessman who lost the 2010 governor's race to Democrat Dannel P. Malloy by a razor-thin 6,404 votes. Foley said his outsider status gives him a better perspective on the state's dire financial condition.
"I think I will come to the general election pointing out the greatest contrast between myself and Gov. Malloy, and this time it won't be close," Foley said, predicting victory if he wins the party nomination again.
"The ... thing we will not do when I am governor -- we won't spend hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars moving corporations from one side of Connecticut to another," said state Senate Minority Leader John McKinney, a lifelong Fairfield resident who is running for governor.
He criticized Malloy for shortchanging the Metro-North Railroad commuter rail lines, transferring $200 million from the state's transportation fund to balance the state budget.
"We're the number one state that people leave from," said Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton, sitting next to Foley, with whom he ran for lieutenant governor in 2010.
"I'm Danbury's longest-serving mayor for a reason," Boughton said. "We need to get more votes and we need to work together. I understand how to win and I know what is happening in urban areas," he said, getting close to an attack against Foley. "We can't go over and over again nominating the same candidates."
McKinney, speaking right after Boughton, said he wouldn't raise divisive issues in the primary season.
"We have serious problems," he said. "I think we have to understand our problems in order to fix them. The Republicans in the state Legislature are not the problem. Democrats and Dan Malloy are the problem."
Other gubernatorial hopefuls in attendance included Shelton Mayor Mark Lauretti, the 23-year mayor, who said that stability has resulted in his city's business growth.
"Everyone becomes a recipient of good government when you control spending and still maintain a quality of life," Lauretti said.
Martha Dean, a lawyer who is a former candidate for attorney general, also attended the forum.
"This is about me," Debicella said, proclaiming that his fundraising statement next week will reveal that he's far ahead of his challengers. "We want to avoid a primary and be unified."
Other contenders for the 4th District nomination who spoke included Joe Bentivegna, an eye doctor from Fairfield; state Rep. John Shaban, R-Redding, and Carl Higbie, a former Navy SEAL. They refrained from attacking each other. Debicella, however, said he would have voted against the enhanced gun-ownership reforms that passed the General Assembly last year and were supported by Shaban.
Shaban pointed to his ability to attract unaffiliated voters as a key to Republicans taking back the 4th District seat.
"You're not going to beat Jim Himes with a traditional Republican," Bentivegna said.
"We understand what is needed to win an election: common-sense fiscal responsibility," said state Rep. Tony Hwang, R-Fairfield, who is seeking the party's nomination along with Nelson Gonzalez, a Cuban-born former GE Capital executive, for the state Senate seat being vacated by McKinney.