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Donald Trump endorses Leora Levy for U.S. Senate in Connecticut via telephone call

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HARTFORD — In a surprise to Republicans, former President Donald Trump endorsed Leora R. Levy for U.S. Senate on Thursday night – throwing drama into Tuesday’s Republican primary.

Republican and Democratic insiders had said earlier Thursday that Trump might be making a move for Levy – and he did several hours later.

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The endorsement came via a live telephone call during an outdoor gathering for Republicans in Montville that was attended by Levy’s two opponents in the primary – party-endorsed candidate Themis Klarides of Madison and conservative Peter Lumaj of Fairfield.

With only days left before the primary, Republicans are already debating how much influence that Trump has over the party in Connecticut. Trump’s high-profile endorsements have led to victories for some candidates across the country, while others have been defeated. The nod brings renewed energy to the Levy campaign in the final push toward Tuesday.

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In his statement, Trump blasted U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Greenwich and Klarides, who had been campaigning in downtown New Britain before heading Thursday night to Montville.

“Ms. Klarides is weak on crime, weak on our military and vets, and will not be protecting our under siege Second Amendment,’’ Trump wrote. “She has accused America of ‘systemic racism’ and, very importantly, she has no chance of beating Da Nang Dick despite his fake and fraudulent military career.’’

Klarides has countered during the campaign that she is tough on crime, as shown by her endorsements by the Connecticut state police union and the Fraternal Order of Police.

“My opponent trumpets out-of-state endorsements from those proven unelectable in Connecticut to somehow distract from the fact that she, too, is unelectable,’’ Klarides said. “I am the only candidate who can accomplish the ultimate goal of winning a United States Senate race, and I trust the Republican voters in Connecticut to recognize that.’’

Klarides, 57, was referring to Trump’s loss to Democrat Joe Biden in 2020 in Connecticut by 20 percentage points. A recent survey by Republican pollster John McLaughlin, which was released to The Courant by political operative Dick Morris, showed that Biden currently leads Trump in Connecticut by 52-39%.

“I am proud to be endorsed by those who know how to win in Connecticut: mayors, first selectmen, town councilors, state representatives, state senators, town committee chairs,’’ Klarides said. “From Greenwich to Putnam, we have the support of the grassroots, the party, the police and those who know how to win in this state. My focus remains on retiring Dick Blumenthal and making our country safer and more affordable. The voters of Connecticut know that I’m the only one capable of winning that fight.’’

Trump, who once owned a waterfront home in Connecticut, issued a detailed statement on Levy.

“Leora Levy is a wonderful woman who works hard and smart, and will never let you down,’’ Trump wrote. “She will defeat the corrupt Richard Blumenthal in November, and what a victory that will be. Leora has my complete and total endorsement!’’

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Trump added, “Leora Levy … has done a fantastic job in life. She has served on the Republican National Committee, and is a tireless advocate for Connecticut and for conservative values. In the Senate, she will work hard to grow the economy, secure the border, fight for energy independence, support our military and our vets, champion election integrity, protect the Second Amendment, and fight violent and vicious crime, which is at the highest level in Connecticut history.’’

Connecticut Democrats quickly released a statement Thursday night, even before Levy had notified the press.

“Levy is anti-choice, has questioned the legitimacy of the congressional investigation into the deadly insurrection on January 6, and is pushing an agenda that Connecticut voters do not support,’’ the party said in a statement.

“Bob Stefanowski tries to distance himself from extremists and an anti-choice agenda. Tonight, his friend Trump joined him in endorsing the same candidate for Senate who enjoys his financial support,” said Democratic state chairwoman Nancy DiNardo. “Their agenda is clear, and it is too extreme for Connecticut.”

Levy once supported former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush over Trump in the 2016 primaries. In an op-ed in February 2016, Levy blasted Trump.

“He is vulgar, ill-mannered and disparages those whom he cannot intimidate,’’ Levy wrote of Trump. “His modus operandi is to try to intimidate people, then call them names and calumniate about them and then if those tactics do not work, to sue them. That is how he has run his businesses and that is how he is running his campaign. It is the media who have done the American voters a huge disservice by falling for his sideshows and not covering the serious candidates.’’

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On Thursday night, Levy accepted the endorsement from Trump, who had nominated her to be ambassador to Chile. Trump’s term as president expired before a vote could be held on the nomination.

“To be endorsed by a true America-first patriot means everything to me and to the voters in Connecticut,” Levy said. “President Trump’s endorsement proves to voters that all states are in the running to flip red, but it will only be possible if we have the best candidates on the November ballot. With 9.1% inflation, an invasion at our border, and indoctrination in our schools, everyone is aware our country is nothing like what it was two years ago under President Trump’s leadership and policies.’’

Christopher Keating can be reached at ckeating@courant.com