UNCASVILLE -- Redemption-minded Republicans overwhelmingly coalesced Friday around Dan Debicella and Mark Greenberg at Mohegan Sun casino, giving both repeat candidates a clear path to the general election during their respective nominating conventions for Congress.
The former state senator from Shelton captured 195 of 210 delegates from the 17-town district, which is emblematic of the wealth gap in Connecticut between its cities such as Bridgeport, Stamford and Norwalk and Gold Coast suburbs of Greenwich, New Canaan and Fairfield.
"It's time to get beyond the mediocrity of small expectations and demand a government that lives up to the promises of America," Debicella told supporters inside a crammed conference room at the busy gambling resort.
Next door, Greenberg accepted the GOP's nomination to run against freshman Democrat Elizabeth Esty in the 5th District, a feat that eluded the Litchfield businessman in 2010 and 2012.
"I am humbled by your trust in me," said Greenberg, surrounded by his wife, Linda, and four of the couple's five children.
Both Greenberg and Debicella used the mandate from their party to typecast their opponents as enablers of the job-killing agenda of President Barack Obama and rail against the Affordable Care Act.
"We all deserve better than a broken economy and a dysfunctional government that taxes, spends and borrows too much," Greenberg said. "The policies of President Obama, Harry Reid and Elizabeth Esty continue to fail too many of our citizens and businesses."
Democrats immediately tried to attach the tea party label to Greenberg and Debicella.
"Mark Greenberg's statement, full of the same, tired tea party rhetoric, underscores the very clear choice 5th District voters will have this November," Esty's campaign manager, Russell Griffin, told Hearst Connecticut Media by email. "Elizabeth remains focused on doing her job and is committed to standing up for the middle class, supporting job growth, and ensuring that government works for the people of central and northwest Connecticut."
The 5th District extends from Danbury to the Farmington Valley and includes Litchfield County, Meriden and New Britain.
Greenberg, 60, prevailed with 253 of 268 delegates, turning back Kent bicycle tour operator Sal Lilienthal.
"This race is about the future -- and what kind of America will be here for our children and grandchildren," Greenberg said.
Neither Greenberg nor Debicella is expected to have a primary in August, a departure for both candidates.
"Thank you again for this opportunity," Greenberg said. "I will not let you down."
In 2010, Debicella emerged from a three-way primary with 69 percent of the vote, only to lose the general election 53 to 47 percent to Himes, a House freshman at the time.
Himes increased his margin of victory to 20 points in 2012 over Republican Steve Obsitnik, putting the incumbent on the fast track to becoming the national finance chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.
"Jim Himes has chosen to put party above country, and his own career above the needs of our families. And it is time to stop," Debicella said. "Jim has grown more and more comfortable in Washington, following the leader instead of standing up for us. He has become part of the partisan gridlock -- voting lockstep with his party instead of reaching across the aisle to find solutions."
Maryli Secrest, the campaign manager for Himes, characterized Debicella as out of touch with the people of the 4th District in a statement to Hearst.
"If Dan Debicella wins, everybody loses," Secrest said. "Today's convention is proof positive that Debicella and Connecticut's Republican Party will be in lock-step with the tea party Republicans in Congress who voted for a budget that fundamentally alters Medicare for future beneficiaries, held up much-needed reforms to our nation's gun violence prevention laws, and voted time and time again to undo important environmental regulations. Debicella is not the kind of representative southwest Connecticut needs or deserves."
Higbie and Bentivegna failed to get 15 percent of the delegates, the threshold to automatically appear on the primary ballot. Neither is expected to try to petition their way on the ballot, which would require them to collect signatures from 2 percent of enrolled and active Republicans in their districts.
"I've already told Dan, `Where do you need me?' " said Higbie, a retired Navy SEAL from Greenwich. "I'm devoted to making him the next congressman as much as myself."
Bentivegna's campaign went into a freefall last week when the Fairfield ophthalmologist admitted to cursing out the Republican Town Committee chairman in his hometown during an argument over delegate commitments.
"I've made too many mistakes," Bentivegna said before the balloting.
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