Former Connecticut State Representative Themis Klarides touted her 22 years as a state lawmaker and her support for abortion and gun control as she faced off against two conservative Republican candidates during a GOP primary debate for the U.S. Senate seat currently occupied by career Democrat Senator Richard Blumenthal.
Klarides’ liberal positions on several issues, portrayed as being acceptable for Connecticut Republicans, clashed with those of Greenwich fundraiser and former trader Leora Levy and immigration attorney Peter Lumaj.
“I have served 22 years in the state legislature,” Klarides, the state GOP’s endorsed candidate, said Tuesday during the debate hosted by News 8 Hartford. “I’m the only candidate here that has ever been elected to office. I fought in the trenches for the people of Connecticut.”
Republicans have been the minority party during Klarides’ career in the Connecticut legislature.
While all three candidates agreed Blumenthal’s views represent the radical left Democrat Party, which has given the United States record inflation and unprecedented illegal immigration, they battled on issues that are important to many Republican-Americans.
“You want to talk about Dick Blumenthal?” asked Klarides. “We all agree that Dick Blumenthal needs to go. And we also understand that I’m the best candidate to do that. I have the best chance to do that. I’ve won 11 elections when my opponents have won no other elections, and I have the best record to win an election in Connecticut, and that’s the goal here.”
“I am not a career politician,” Levy said. “I’m a career American. We have a great opportunity to win in November, to defeat Dick Blumenthal, but it matters who we nominate. I’m a principled common-sense conservative. Blumenthal is the face of Biden in Connecticut. I am running to rid Connecticut of the Blumenthal blight.”
“Everything that America stands for is under attack,” Lumaj said as well. “What we need right now to defeat Blumenthal, we need someone who has the character, the background and the fortitude to be a true Republican, to be a conservative. There is a clear distinction in this race. It is between Themis Klarides and I.”
In her statement on the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, Klarides announced she is “pro-choice and in the legislature worked to protect women’s right to access safe early-term abortion services.”
“I am pro-choice and I support a woman’s right to choose,” she said during the debate. “I have been public about that.”
Lumaj asserted he has always been pro-life, and pointed to a report from August 2012 indicating Levy, then-state chair of Women for Romney in Connecticut, said she supported abortion rights with certain conditions.
Levy noted, however, her “life experience” has changed her views on the issue of abortion. During the debate, and in an interview with The Connecticut Star, she asserted she is pro-life, with exceptions for rape, incest, and to save the life of the mother. She is also endorsed by Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America.
“Leora Levy deeply understands the importance of protecting and valuing all human life, including the unborn who are our most vulnerable members of society,” SBA Pro-Life America President Marjorie Dannenfelser said in the endorsement statement.
“In contrast, her opponent, Themis Klarides, has worked alongside the abortion lobby throughout her career, helping make Connecticut one of the most radical pro-abortion states in the country, allowing for abortion up until the moment of birth,” the national pro-life leader asserted.
While Lumaj and Levy both said they would support former President Donald Trump, if he were a Republican candidate for president in 2024, Klarides said she would have to consider the other candidates “on both sides.”
A supporter of gun control, Klarides tangled with Levy and Lumaj on that issue as well.
Gary Rose, who chairs the Department of Government at Sacred Heart University, explained to the New Haven Register the issues of gun control and abortion should not be easily dismissed in Connecticut.
“Both Levy and Lumaj are conservative on guns and abortion,” Rose said.
“Those are important issues to Republicans,” he added. “There is still a good swath of moderate Republicans in Connecticut, but the party has moved to the right. Levy and Lumaj were addressing them in a way that the Republicans watching this could be saying ‘Hey, I agree with them.’”
“Tonight,” Rose said, “was all about August 9,” the primary election day.
Rose continued that while Klarides exhibited expertise on major issues, Levy and Lumaj generated significant appeal to conservative primary voters.
“It was very clear to me that Themis Klarides came across to me as one who could challenge Blumenthal,” Rose told the Register. “But this debate was about winning a primary, and to win the Republican primary, I thought Levy and Lumaj were having a more direct connection to Republican voters than Themis Klarides.”
Levy, in particular, showed substantial passion, he said, while Lumaj “came across more as a statesman.”
Scott McLean, a political science professor at Quinnipiac University, wondered to the Hartford Courant why Klarides agreed to debate the two conservative Republican candidates.
“To me, it’s nuts,’’ McLean said. “I don’t understand why she would take a chance like this … I don’t see any upside for her participating in the debate with Lumaj and Levy. I just don’t see it. She has more to lose than to gain.’’
McLean added that Klarides was in a position of having to avoid commenting in any way that could cause her to be rejected by Trump supporters in Connecticut. Such statements, he said, would “make the Republican base unhappy with her and not willing to go out and vote for her.”
A recent Quinnipiac University poll showed Blumenthal, 76, with his lowest job approval rating, 45-43 percent, since being elected to the U.S. Senate nearly 12 years ago.
The Connecticut primary election is August 9.
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