- Associated Press - Sunday, August 5, 2018

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) - Former Secretary of the State Susan Bysiewicz finds herself in a spirited primary battle for lieutenant governor against a little-known labor organizer whose supporters contend she is the fresh face voters are seeking.

Eva Bermudez Zimmerman surprised many by winning nearly 40 percent of the delegates at the Democratic state convention in May, two days after officially getting into the race. It was more than double the support the 31-year-old needed to appear on the Aug. 14 primary ballot and challenge Bysiewicz, 56, who set aside her original bid for governor to run as Greenwich businessman Ned Lamont’s running mate.

At a WVIT-TV debate last week, Bermudez Zimmerman made it clear she believes Bysiewicz should make way for a new generation.

“She was elected in 1992 and she’s had her time,” Bermudez Zimmerman said of the party’s endorsed candidate. In response, Bysiewicz stressed her experience, arguing she’ll be “ready on Day 1” and doesn’t see “a record of accomplishment” that her opponent brings to the race.

While this is the first state-wide campaign for Bermudez Zimmerman, like Bysiewicz, she has qualified for $400,000 in public campaign financing for the primary. She has also secured endorsements from labor unions, the Working Families Party, and sitting members of the General Assembly. She has attracted attention to what has traditionally been a sleepy race, drawing comparisons to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a self-described democratic socialist who stunned the political establishment in May by defeating 10-term U.S. Rep. Joseph Crowley in New York’s Democratic primary. Both Latinas are running as advocates for working- and middle-class families.

“The convention was a litmus test to see if Eva was real. And what we’ve seen since the convention is that people are starting to get to know her. People believe in her. And the support has grown immensely since the convention,” state Rep. Chris Soto of New London said. “We just cannot have the status quo anymore.”

Bysiewicz, now a business attorney, acknowledges being a familiar face in Connecticut politics for decades, having first been elected to the General Assembly in 1992 and later running for attorney general and U.S. Senate. But she laughs at the notion of being considered the “status quo” today.

“You know, it cracks me up because I’ve been fighting the status quo since I came to state government,” Bysiewicz said, noting how she faced a former Middletown mayor when she first ran for the state House and challenged the Democratic Party’s endorsed candidate for secretary of the state.

“I do have experience in government, but every time I’ve served, it’s been a fight to get there,” Bysiewicz said. “But the nice thing is, the voters have in the past been supportive and I think choices, lots of choices, for the voters can be a very good thing.”

A somewhat similar dynamic is playing out among Republican candidates for lieutenant governor. The party’s endorsed candidate, state Sen. Joe Markley, 61, was first elected to the General Assembly in 1984, serving one term. He returned in 2010. Markley is being challenged by Jayme Stevenson, the 56-year-old first selectman of Darien, and Erin Stewart, the 31-year-old New Britain mayor who has spoken openly about how she believes the GOP needs more diversity on the ticket to appeal to younger voters.

A poll released last week by the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research and MTV found 79 percent of Americans ages 15 to 34 think leaders from their generation would do a better job running the country.

Bermudez Zimmerman, a former Newtown Legislative Council member, said young people and middle-aged residents who have never gotten involved in politics before have embraced her candidacy. At a campaign event last week, where she announced the support of more than 20 state legislators, Bermudez Zimmerman urged other politicians to endorse her candidacy and be a “champion” for working class voters.

“They want someone who is not a coward, someone who is standing up to corporations, someone who is standing up to anyone who is not focusing on safer schools, to anyone who’s not there having conversations about jobs, vocational training, infrastructure opportunities, sustainable energy,” she said.

Bysiewicz, who has also been endorsed by state and federal lawmakers, as well as nearly 60 top municipal leaders, contends she is best qualified to carry out the role of lieutenant governor, which includes presiding over the state Senate and filling the role of governor, if necessary.

“Our state is in dire financial straits,” she said. “Who’s got the best experience to help the governor deal with these major challenges and I believe what I bring is the best for the state.”

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