- Associated Press - Saturday, May 19, 2018

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) - Connecticut Democrats emerged from Saturday’s convention unified behind Greenwich businessman Ned Lamont for governor, but facing an internal challenge from a younger, more ethnically diverse generation of Democrats.

Lamont’s running mate, veteran politician and former Secretary of the State Susan Bysiewicz of Middletown won the party’s endorsement for lieutenant governor. But the 56-year-old faces a strong primary challenge on Aug. 14 from 30-year-old union negotiator Eva Bermudez-Zimmerman of Newtown, who won nearly 40 percent of the delegate vote.

Bermudez-Zimmerman’s strong showing comes amid concern about whether the party’s ticket has enough diversity.

“To have a nomination of a majority white ticket is not a positive step forward,” said Bermudez-Zimmerman, a former Newtown Legislative Council member. “It’s making sure that we have everyone included here in Connecticut. And by me being the first Latina who has gotten this far for lieutenant governor, for a constitutional office, is embarrassing. So, this is historic right now. I’ve made history.”

Both Bysiewicz and Lamont are white.

“Honestly, I believe people like Eva are the future of our party. We need more representation, not only diversity and with respect to race, but also youth,” said Middletown delegate Laurie McFadden. “I like Ned and I like Susan, and I am an older white person, but it’s like, ‘Here we go, old white people again.’ We need more diversity in general.”

The party’s ticket became more diverse by the end of the day. Former Hartford City Council President Shawn Wooden, who is black, was endorsed for state treasurer, and Stamford state Rep. William Tong, who is Asian, was endorsed for attorney general. Both face likely primary challenges.

Former Wall Street trader Dita Bhargarva of Greenwich, who qualified to run in the primary for treasurer, said this is the year for diverse and female candidates.

“If there is ever a year, this is it,” she said.

Lamont may also face a primary. Bridgeport Mayor Joe Ganim said he plans to continue trying to collect the roughly 15,500 signatures needed to petition his way onto the primary ballot, after falling just shy of receiving the 15 percent of support needed from delegates. Retired Greenwich business executive Guy Smith also is collecting signatures.

For the most part, there appeared to be enthusiastic support in the convention hall for Lamont, who 12 years ago was the political upstart who challenged the party’s veteran U.S. Sen. Joe Lieberman in a race seen nationally as a referendum on the war in Iraq. Lamont ultimately lost to Lieberman in the general election when the senator ran as an independent candidate.

Lamont also lost a bid for governor in 2010, joking Saturday about how it felt unfamiliar to stand on the main stage at the Democratic State Convention and accept the party’s endorsement after winning the support of 87 percent of the delegates.

“It’s a whole different vantage point,” he said, adding how he was proud of the 2,000 delegates who gathered at the Connecticut Convention Center and the diversity they represented.

“This is America. This is the best of Connecticut. I’m so proud to be here,” Lamont said. “And if Donald Trump doesn’t understand that. This is what makes Connecticut great.”

Lamont continued the theme set Friday night by U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy, warning “we have a battle on our hands” with the state’s Republicans. The GOP has high hopes of winning the governorship, now that Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy is not seeking re-election. The party also hopes to gain control of the General Assembly, where there is currently an equal number of Democrats and Republicans in the Senate and where Democrats hold a slim majority in the House of Representatives.

“Remember what Chris said? These are not your grandparents’ Republicans. These are Trump Republicans. They’re willing to turn this state Trump Red,” he said. “We’re not going to let them do it. We’re going to fight to keep this place Connecticut Blue.”

Democrats also endorsed incumbent Secretary of the State Denise Merrill and State Comptroller Kevin Lembo on Saturday. Incumbent Attorney General George Jepsen and Treasurer Denise Nappier didn’t seek re-election this year.

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