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The COVID-19 summer of 2020 may shape 2022 gubernatorial race

It is pretty easy to conclude that COVID-19 has been good for Gov. Ned Lamont.

A calm, intelligent and reasoned response to the pandemic bought the Democrat in the governor's mansion a lot of public confidence and goodwill at a point in his first term when he desperately needed it.

Even aspiring Republicans seemed to back off early pandemic lockdown attacks on the governor when it didn't seem to get them anywhere.

The question is whether Lamont can bottle up and save his rising approval ratings until 2022, in the likely event he seeks another term. It's hard to know.

But we are starting to see some hints in this COVID-19 summer of 2020 what we might expect in the gubernatorial election two years from now.

I, for one, don't plan to forget the way Lamont forsook New London and, by extension, the rest of the region in his 2020 signing of a $157 million deal to allow Eversource and a Danish utility to commandeer the deepwater port in the city for a commercial venture that won't pay a dime in property tax.

Now that Eversource, in light of crippling pandemic electric bills and a bungled response to an unremarkable, fast-moving tropical storm, is the state's principal bogeyman, any politician's pandering to the huge utility is not going to age well.

One of the Republicans thought to be planning a gubernatorial bid in 2022 has an Eversource problem that also grew this summer with electric bills and long power outages.

House Minority Leader Themis Klarides, not long before Lamont wed Eversource in the New London wind deal, announced her engagement to a top Eversource executive who takes home some $2.5 million a year in money earned from electric customers.

I wish her the best of luck in love, but I suspect a marriage to a loyal servant of the state's bogeyman won't do much to improve her gubernatorial prospects. It presents itself as a conflict.

Both Klarides and her minority leader counterpart in the Senate, Len Fasano, wisely opted not to be on the ballot this fall, when Donald Trump at the head of the ticket is sure to drown a lot of Connecticut Republicans.

Fasano, 61, a Yale-educated lawyer, was coy when asked, after dropping his reelection bid for the Senate, what he expects to do next.

It wouldn't surprise me if someone who made himself such a prominent face of the Republican Party in recent years doesn't surface as a contender for its nomination for the state's highest office in 2022. Hunkering down in the summer of 2020 is looking like a good strategy.

The Republican who lost to Lamont, Bob Stefanowski, seems to harbor some thoughts of a rematch, trying to stay relevant, penning an occasional op-ed piece.

Stefanowski's fantasy platform of eliminating the income tax reminds me of Trump's endless promises about COVID-19, that it will disappear, as the death toll continues to soar.

Stefanowski, in contemplating another run for governor, might remember how poorly running a second time for the same statewide office turned out for two other rich Connecticut Republicans: Linda McMahon, who lost two U.S. Senate races, and Tom Foley, who lost two gubernatorial matches.

I don't think the COVID-19 summer of 2020 is going so well for Sen. Heather Somers of Groton, a one-time unsuccessful candidate for lieutenant governor widely thought to be contemplating a gubernatorial run of her own.

Somers showed up in Stonington at a "Make Haircuts Great Again" protest of lockdown policies. She labeled the protests that followed the George Floyd killing at the hands of police a "darkness" sweeping across the country.

Then she voted against a police accountability law that mandates police body cams, bans most chokeholds and removes liability protection in cases where police act maliciously or wantonly.

Her opponent, Bob Statchen, an Air Force veteran who was called up by the National Guard and helped distribute personal protection equipment to hospitals and nursing homes during the lockdown, has robustly supported the summer's Black Lives Matter protests.

If Statchen's approach to the summer of protests prevails, and he defeats Somers this fall, I think you might think of it as the summer that dashed the Groton senator's hopes of a successful run for governor.

Connecticut has loved its women governors, Republican and Democrat. I hope we have a good choice for another in 2022.

There's a lot we can already see in the election after the next one, but much we can't yet.

This is the opinion of David Collins.

d.collins@theday.com

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