State Democrats rally for unified cause

Photo of Emilie Munson

HARTFORD — Days after a heated primary, Democratic nominees for state and federal offices gathered for a unity rally in Hartford on Saturday, eager to display an undivided party focused on winning in November.

Sprinkled throughout the crowd of about 250 in Minuteman Park, a handful of Democrats unsuccessful in their primary bids clapped in support of the ticket they had aspired to be part of.

Bridgeport Mayor Joe Ganim listened the speeches of the nominees, including one from Ned Lamont, who beat Ganim in the primary for governor by more than 130,000 votes, three rows back from the stage.

“It’s important that we have unity for the Democratic party to win in November,” Ganim said afterward.

Eva Bermudez Zimmerman, who challenged Lamont’s running mate, Susan Bysiewicz, for the lieutenant governor nomination, echoed Ganim. She said she is now working with Democratic town committees across the state to help register more party members.

Dita Bhargava, who challenged endorsed candidate Shawn Wooden in a bruising primary campaign for state treasuer, called it an “important year” and said she will be backing the “entire ticket.” Chris Mattei, who challenged William Tong for attorney general, also attended.

On stage, the undisputed star of the rally was Jahana Hayes, the 2016 National Teacher of the Year who won 62 percent of the vote in the 5th Congressional District to beat endorsed candidate Mary Glassman.

Glassman, former first selectman of Simsbury, did not appear at the rally Saturday.

“We’re talking about the primary season as if it is a bad thing,” said Hayes. “This is healthy: a robust, democratic conversation where people have the idea to listen critically, to evaluate who is running, to cast their vote in that way. That is what democracy is supposed to look like.”

The crowd shouted Hayes’ name after she spoke. U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., who encouraged Hayes to run and has given her political advice, joked when he took the stage after her, “New rule: I never follow Jahana Hayes.”

Wooden produced an awkward moment during the rally when he introduced Lamont as “Governor Malloy” in an apparent slip of the tongue. Republicans continually paint Lamont as an extension of the unpopular Democratic governor, while Lamont emphasizes his differences from Malloy.

“We are Democrats. We are Democrats and so is our governor,” said Wooden, trying to recover from the gaffe. “That’s all I’m going to say on that, and let’s not forget it.”

Lamont, in his speech, emphasized that the Democratic ticket represented “change.”

“Shawn, it will be, no question about it — it will be Gov. Ned Lamont,” Lamont said.

Chairman of the state Democratic Party Nick Balletto and several candidates warned of a roll-back of civil rights and progressive values if Republicans are elected in November.

“We cannot allow (GOP gubernatorial nominee) Bob Stefanowski and those horrible Republicans to bring their Trump values to Connecticut,” Balletto said.

Whether they won or lost in the primary, Republican candidates are eager to support the party’s nominees for statewide office, said J.R. Romano, chairman of the state Republican party, on Saturday.

“One of the things that is uniquely understood by Republicans is that Democrats winning in November would be catastrophic,” Romano said. “It would mean that the average family’s taxes would go up.”

The four Republicans who fell to Stefanowski in Tuesday’s primary have coalesced behind the new Republican ticket, but some candidates’ support for Stefanowski specifically appears tepid.

Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton said he would support Stefanowski and other Republicans in Danbury, but will not be actively campaigning for him. Tim Herbst, of Trumbull, said he would back the GOP, but did not name Stefanowski.

Meanwhile, David Stemerman of Greenwich — whose campaign was most combative toward Stefanowski in debates and attack ads — told Republicans to vote Stefanowski in November in his concession speech. Westport tech entrepreneur Steve Obsitnik provided statement of support for Stefanowski.; Twitter: @emiliemunson