HARTFORD, Connecticut -- Wealthy businessman Ned Lamont won election Wednesday as Connecticut's governor, keeping the office in Democratic hands in part by promising to be a "firewall" against the policies of President Donald Trump.
The 64-year-old cable TV company founder from Greenwich poured more than $12 million of his own money into the hotly contest race. The Republican Governors Association spent nearly $6 million on ads bashing Lamont as a big spender and repeat of outgoing Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, all in the hopes of boosting the chances of political newcomer and Republican businessman Bob Stefanowski.
Lamont, in turn, hit Stefanowski hard on his previous job leading a payday lending company and claimed the Republican's proposal to eliminate the personal income tax over eight years would decimate state services and benefit mostly the rich.
The outcome from Tuesday's vote remained in doubt well beyond polls' closing. After daylight, as results tricking in from urban areas built up Lamont's lead, Stefanowski called him to concede defeat.
"I'm humbled and I want every resident to know how grateful I am for this extraordinary honor," Lamont said. "I will work every day - honestly and thoughtfully - to move this state forward and be a champion for Connecticut."
While disappointed with the outcome, Stefanowksi said he was pleased with his campaign's success in drawing attention to the tax burden in the state.
There were long lines on Election Day, and Stefanowski's campaign raised concerns with a judge Tuesday about some new voters in New Haven and around the University of Connecticut being allowed to cast ballots after the registration deadline. A court hearing was tentatively planned for Friday before Republicans dropped the challenge.
Lamont's win completed a Democratic sweep of the top offices on the ballot in Connecticut, including the re-election of U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy. Five Democrats were elected once again to represent the state in the U.S. House, including a newcomer, former national teacher of the year Jahana Hayes.
During the campaign, Lamont painted Stefanowski and Trump as threats to everything from public education to the rights of organized labor and women.
"I see all that stuff coming out of Washington, D.C.," Lamont recently told a group of retired teachers. "I just want you to know that a governor can be a firewall there."
Stefanowski had hoped the unpopularity of two-term Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy would buoy the GOP's chances to win back the governorship after eight years. Stefanowski, a former General Electric and UBS Investment Bank executive, repeatedly linked Lamont to Malloy, claiming he would increase taxes like Malloy and hurt the state's chances to recover from the recession of the late 2000s.
Lamont will take office in January and is likely to contend with continued serious financial problems for the state. The new $20 million fiscal year budget, which begins July 1, is projected to have more than $2 billion in deficit, while Connecticut continues to lag the rest of New England in job growth. The state also faces massively expensive transportation infrastructure costs.
Solving the state's fiscal woes could be a difficult balancing act for Lamont. During the campaign he received the backing of party leaders and unionized state employees. But he also billed himself as a political outsider and entrepreneur, promising he'll be "taking on the entrenched interests and shaking up the old way of doing business in Hartford." He's called for restoring a local property tax credit against the state's personal income tax, instituting highway tolls on large trucks, reducing drug prices by pooling purchases with surrounding states, instituting paid family medical leave and tightening existing gun laws.
Wednesday's victory marked Lamont's first major electoral win. He lost the 2010 Democratic primary for governor Malloy, who did not seek a third term in office. But Lamont is better known for defeating U.S. Sen. Joe Lieberman in the 2006 Democratic primary, embodying voter opposition to the war in Iraq. Lamont ultimately lost the general election when Lieberman ran as an independent.
Besides Stefanowski Lamont defeated independent candidate Oz Griebel, Libertarian Rod Hanscomb and Mark Stewart Greenstein, co-founder of Americans for Minimal Government Party.
Former Secretary of the State Susan Bysiewicz of Middletown was automatically elected as lieutenant governor, succeeding Democrat Nancy Wyman.