By SUSAN HAIGH, Associated Press

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — Connecticut Republicans pick their candidate for U.S. Senate in a primary election Tuesday that could signal where the state party is headed politically after years of backing moderates.

The Senate race pits former state House Minority Leader Themis Klarides, a social moderate who supports abortion rights and gun control measures, against two conservatives: attorney Peter Lumaj and Leora Levy, a GOP fundraiser and former commodities trader who received an endorsement last week from former President Donald Trump.

Levy, a first-time candidate who loaned her campaign more than $1 million, touted her backing from Trump as proof she is a “true America-first patriot.” She and Lumaj, who ran an unsuccessful campaign for governor in 2018, each have argued that only a conservative can beat the incumbent Democrat, U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, in the November election.

“President Trump’s endorsement proves to voters that all states are in the running to flip red,” Levy said in a written statement after Trump announced his support over the phone during a GOP event in Montville on Thursday.

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Connecticut hasn’t elected a Republican to the U.S. Senate since Lowell P. Weicker Jr., who served from 1971 to 1989.

Klarides contends her legislative experience and moderate positions on issues like abortion can persuade Connecticut voters in the general election to oust Blumenthal, who has been in office since 2011. She’s focused heavily on economic issues, including inflation and gas prices.

“I have won 11 elections in this state, in a Democrat-leaning district. And that’s important because Connecticut is a Democrat-leaning state,” Klarides said in a recent debate. “I am a strong, common-sense Connecticut Republican and that’s how you win an election in this state.”

Klarides received the party’s backing at a state convention in the spring. Lumaj and Levy are banking on their conservative message resonating with die-hard Republicans who tend to vote in the state’s low-turnout summer primary.

Voters on Tuesday are also choosing their candidates to replace longtime Secretary of the State Denise Merrill, a Democrat who resigned in June to care for her ailing husband.

In the Republican race, conservative Dominic Rapini, a sales executive for Apple and the party’s endorsed candidate, faces state Rep. Terrie Wood, a Darien Republican who calls herself a “commonsense New England conservative.”

Rapini says he is suspicious about voter fraud in Connecticut, especially in the state’s largest city of Bridgeport where various state and local officials have been charged over the years with election fraud — from allegedly conspiring to fraudulently obtain public campaign funds, to allegedly falsifying voter registration applications and absentee ballots applications.

Rapini is a former board chairman of a group called Fight Voter Fraud Inc., which was founded by a woman who filed dozens of complaints in Connecticut about alleged voter fraud during the 2020 election. Around the time Rapini left the group, the State Election Enforcement Commission dismissed most of the complaints, calling the them a “waste of the limited investigatory resources of the Commission.”

Wood has also expressed support for new voter ID laws in Connecticut.

The two Democratic contenders for Secretary of the State, state Rep. Stephanie Thomas of Norwalk and New Haven Health Director Maritza Bond, have pledged to oppose Republican attempts to tighten voting rules.

Thomas, who is Black, has said such restrictions hit close to home, considering her father grew up during the 1940s in Georgia and never really learned to read and her mother worked two jobs for most of her life and didn’t drive. It took an hour-long bus ride and a long walk along a highway to reach the nearest department of motor vehicles branch to register to vote.

“So when Republicans make it harder to vote, it’s folks like my mom they’re targeting,” she says in a recent commercial.

Bond, a Latina, said such laws “disproportionately impact communities of color and the elderly in our state and that is exactly why it is a priority of the GOP.”

Democrats will also choose their nominee to fill the job of state Treasurer, which is being vacated by Democrat Shawn Wooden.

Erick Russell, an attorney who specializes in municipal finances, is up against Dita Bhargava, the chief operating officer of a private investment fund, and Karen Dubois-Walton who oversees New Haven’s Housing Authority.

Meanwhile, Republicans in the state’s 4th Congressional District will choose between the party-endorsed candidate, Darien First Selectman Jayme Stevenson and Michael Goldstein, a doctor and lawyer from Greenwich. The winner will challenge Democratic U.S. Rep. Jim Himes in November.

Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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