Connecticut Republicans tap former mayor for 5th district

MASHANTUCKET — Connecticut Republicans tapped a former mayor of Meriden to run for the state’s open 5th Congressional District seat on Friday, but it appeared likely he’d be challenged in a primary.

Manny Santos, a 49-year-old analyst with the United Health Group, won the support of 135 delegates on the first day of the two-day state Republican convention at Foxwoods Resort Casino. But retired university professor Ruby O’Neill garnered 97 votes, enough to participate in the Aug. 14 primary.

O’Neill, the wife of veteran Republican state Rep. Art O’Neill of Southbury, told reporters she plans to challenge Santos.

“It would be nice to go right into the general election without a primary. It saves a lot of time, effort and resources, and money that we actually need for the general election,” Santos said. “But on the other hand, this is our system.”

The western Connecticut district is considered the GOP’s best chance of winning a congressional seat in November. Besides having a relatively close partisan makeup, it acquired an open seat after Democratic U.S. Rep. Elizabeth Esty announced she would not seek re-election following criticism over her handling of sexual harassment allegations in her congressional office.

The remaining four incumbent Democratic U.S. House members are running for re-election. Also, Democratic U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy is running for a second term.

Santos has been in the 5th District race since February, while O’Neill made her announcement in late April.

“I announced my candidacy before it became easy,” Santos said. “I knew that this seat could be won by a Republican. … We need representatives in Washington, D.C., that support this president’s agenda, and I intend to do that.”

National odds-makers have predicted the district likely will remain in Democratic hands. The party is scheduled to endorse its candidate on Monday. But JR Romano, the state’s Republican Party chairman, has said he believes voter dissatisfaction with how the state of Connecticut is being run by Democratic politicians will help the Republican candidate ultimately win. Romano also is heartened by the partisan makeup of the 41-town district, which borders both New York and Massachusetts. As of April, there were 132,782 Democrats; 100,368 Republicans; and 177,749 unaffiliated voters in the district, according to the Secretary of the State’s Office.

Republicans were endorsing candidates on Friday for the U.S. House Representatives, the U.S. Senate and Attorney General.

Saturday is expected to be the main event of the state convention. That’s when more than 1,000 delegates will endorse a candidate for governor. The field is a crowded one, considering Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy is not seeking a third term. But it got a little smaller on Friday, when gubernatorial contender and New Britain Mayor Erin Stewart announced she will run instead run for lieutenant governor, acknowledging she didn’t have enough delegate support.

“When the numbers don’t work in your favor, they don’t work,” she said.

Besides governor, delegates on Saturday also will endorse candidates for comptroller, secretary of the state, treasurer and lieutenant governor.

Given the close partisan make-up in the General Assembly and the large number of Republican city and town leaders, GOP leaders are optimistic about their chances in November.

House Minority Leader Themis Klarides, R-Derby, urged delegates to build a Republican team of candidates that have “the guts, the backbone” and fearlessness to push forward the Republican vision. “We all have to feel in our heart and our gut that there is hope for Connecticut,” she said.