Matt Lesser drops out of CT secretary of the state race after missing Democratic endorsement

State Sen. Matt Lesser said Tuesday he will exit Connecticut’s secretary of the state race and instead run for reelection in his Senate district.

State Sen. Matt Lesser said Tuesday he will exit Connecticut’s secretary of the state race and instead run for reelection in his Senate district.

Cassandra Day / Hearst Connecticut Media

State Sen. Matt Lesser said Tuesday he will exit Connecticut’s secretary of the state race and instead run for reelection in his Senate district.

Lesser, who represents Middletown, lost the Democratic party endorsement at the state convention Saturday, finishing second in the voting to state Rep. Stephanie Thomas, of Norwalk. Though he qualified to face Thomas and other candidates in a primary for the Democratic nomination, he has chosen not to do so.

“For a variety of reasons, the best move for me is to run for reelection to the state Senate,” Lesser told Hearst Connecticut Media. “I think it’s going to be a tough year for Democrats, and I think a primary this summer would be necessarily divisive, and I’m not sure that that’s necessarily what we need at this moment.”

Lesser’s exit from the race leaves Thomas, New Haven health director Maritza Bond and state Rep. Hilda Santiago, of Meriden, as the remaining candidates for the Democratic nomination for secretary of the state. State Rep. Josh Elliott, of Hamden, did not receive enough support at the convention to qualify for a primary.

Bond, who finished fourth at the convention with 17 percent of the vote, plans to run a primary challenge, according to Roy Occhiogrosso, an unpaid adviser to the campaign. Bond could not be reached for comment.

Santiago has not yet decided whether she will continue to seek the secretary of the state nomination or bow out to run for reelection in the state House, campaign spokesperson Trip Holtgrewe said Tuesday. Santiago has more time than Lesser to decide, as the Meriden Democratic Town Committee will not meet until later this month to endorse its state House candidate.

Whoever emerges from the Democratic field will face one of several Republican candidates, led by Dominic Rapini, of Hamden, who secured the party’s endorsement last weekend.

At the Democratic convention Saturday, Lesser battled Santiago for second place in the secretary of the state’s race. With Thomas ahead during the second round of voting and Lesser and Santiago separated by a few delegates, Thomas released some of her delegates to support Lesser, springing him into the final round of voting.

Before the final round concluded, and with Lesser still far behind Thomas in the delegate count, he bowed out, saying he was “proud” of his showing and promising to take the fight to a primary.

Prior to the convention, some Democrats had pushed for the party to endorse women and people of color for the offices of treasurer and secretary of the state to increase the diversity of the ticket. Lesser’s campaign drew criticism after requesting the secretary of the state race be decided first, not last, at the convention, seemingly to avoid a scenario in which delegates reacted to a slate of male candidates for other offices by endorsing a woman for that one.

Lesser said Tuesday the emphasis on the diversity of the Democratic ticket was one factor in his decision to exit the race.

“At the end of the day, I think that dynamic was what prevented me from winning,” Lesser said. “I understand and I recognize the desire for folks to have a woman on the ticket, and I [want that] too. ... I think it’s important that we have strong gender diversity on the ticket.”

Lesser said Tuesday he was not ready to endorse Thomas or any other candidate.

In the Democratic race for state treasurer, two candidates who received enough support for a primary both said at the convention they plan to run in a primary. The candidates are Dita Bhargava, an investment firm executive from Greenwich; and Karen DuBois-Walton, president of the housing authority in New Haven.

The endorsed candidate is Erick Russell, a New Haven lawyer working in the securities field. Russell and DuBois-Walton are both Black candidates; Democrats have nominated a Black candidate for treasurer in every cycle since 1962.

Bhargava lost in a 2018 primary to Shawn Wooden, the one-term treasurer who is not seeking reelection. Bhargava and Russell are both former vice chairs of the Democratic State Central Committee.

Staff writers John Moritz, Dan Haar and Julia Bergman contributed to this story.

alex.putterman

@hearstmediact.com