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Connecticut primary is loaded up with high-profile races

Democratic candidates for governor Ned Lamont, left, and Bridgeport Mayor Joe Ganim debate in the Democratic gubernatorial primary, in New Haven, Conn., Thursday, July 12, 2018.

Jessica Hill / AP

Ned Lamont, a wealthy businessman who embodied voters' frustration with the war in Iraq during his 2006 U.S. Senate run, is facing off against Joe Ganim, a big-city mayor who served seven years in prison for public corruption, in Connecticut's Democratic gubernatorial primary on Tuesday.

Meanwhile, five Republican candidates are vying to be the one man who will try in November to regain control of the state's top job after nearly eight years of Democratic rule.

The gubernatorial competitions are just two of the numerous primaries being held Tuesday, for everything from state treasurer to the state House of Representatives. The most crowded primary field in recent memory has been fueled by an unusually large number of open seats for top offices — notably Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy is not seeking a third term — coupled with the availability of public financing for state races.

There are also Democratic and GOP battles in the state's 5th Congressional District, where Democratic U.S. Rep. Elizabeth Esty is not seeking a fourth term.

While the primary has become heated at times, Sacred Heart University Professor Gary Rose predicts things will become even hotter after the last primary vote is counted.

"I think for the general election, it's going to be a lot of inflammatory rhetoric out there," he said.

The battle for the GOP nomination for governor has already been testy in recent days, with outside groups spending tens of thousands of dollars on TV ads and candidates clashing with one another.

Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton, who successfully had a noncancerous brain tumor removed last year, narrowly won the GOP endorsement at the party's convention in May. But he faces another tough challenge from four fellow Republicans on Tuesday's ballot. The list includes two wealthy businessmen, former Greenwich hedge fund manager David Stemerman and former General Electric executive Bob Stefanowski, who are mostly self-funding their campaigns. There's also former Trumbull First Selectman Tim Herbst and Westport tech entrepreneur Steve Obsitnik, who, like Boughton, are both participating in the state's public campaign financing program.

Whoever wins the most votes will secure the party's nomination. Some candidates have estimated they need just 25,000 to 30,000 votes to win, considering past primary turnouts.

Former Gov. M. Jodi Rell is the last Republican to hold the office. She left office in January 2011.

On the Democratic side, Lamont is mostly self-funding his gubernatorial campaign while Ganim, the mayor of Bridgeport, has been raising contributions after being barred from participating in the public campaign funding system.

Lamont is best known for defeating U.S. Sen. Joe Lieberman in the 2006 Democratic primary. Lieberman went on to win the general election as an independent candidate.

Joshua Foley, a spokesman for the State Elections Enforcement Commission, said his office has been gearing up for Tuesday's primary. The agency will staff a primary day hotline at 866-SEEC-INFO (866-733-2463) for anyone who witnesses voting irregularities. Complaints sent to an email address, elections@ctgov, will also be monitored by SEEC and the Secretary of the State's Office.

Foley said Tuesday's turnout will determine how busy SEEC will be.

"When the turnout in certain places is high, or there's a glitch at a certain poling location, the calls start lighting up," he said.

Only state's roughly 1.2 million registered Democrats and Republicans can participate in the primary. They represent about 57 percent of the state's electorate. Unaffiliated voters, the largest voting bloc, cannot participate in party primaries in Connecticut. Polls are open from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m.