Shared from the 11/21/2015 The News-Times eEdition


State GOP could field openly gay candidate in 2016

Sherman first selectman Cope says he’s exploring a run





Carol Kaliff / Hearst Connecticut Media file photo

Clay Cope, the Republican first selectman in Sherman, confirmed to Hearst Connecticut Media that he is exploring a run against Democratic incumbent Elizabeth Esty in the 5th Congressional District.

A home shopping fashion executive-turned-top office holder of Fairfield County’s least populous town could seek to become the first openly gay Republican in the next Congress.

Clay Cope, the first selectman of Sherman since 2011, confirmed Friday that he is exploring a run next year for the 5th District U.S. House seat of Democrat Elizabeth Esty. The district extends from Danbury and Litchfield County to the Farmington Valley and New Britain.

Cope, 53, is coming off a razor-thin victory earlier this month for the top office in Sherman, the bucolic hamlet named for Founding Father Roger Sherman.

He would be just the second openly gay Republican to run for state or federal office in the state, and the first in more than a decade. That stands in stark contrast to Democrats, who have fielded a stable of LGBT candidates.

Cope’s emergence as a prospective candidate was greeted positively by big tent-minded Republicans, while, at the same time, cautiously by social conservatives who oppose gay marriage.

“I can’t emphasize enough how transformative having an openly gay Republican elected as such in the House of Representatives would be for the GOP caucus, as well as the national conversation on LGBT issues,” said Gregory T. Angelo, president of the Log Cabin Republicans, a national organization that advocates for LGBT equal rights.

Angelo, a former Fairfield resident, said Cope would join New Hampshire’s Daniel Innis as openly gay Republicans on the 2016 ballot for Congress.

Cope spent Friday trying to gauge the support of Connecticut’s top Republicans, who haven’t won a statewide or congressional race since 2006.

From 1984 to 2012, Cope was vice president and marketing director of Victor Costa Inc., the QVC home shopping fashion label of his then-partner.

“I’m making calls, and that’s really where I am,” said Cope, who declined to comment further about the race or his positions on issues.

A bigger tent

Sherman Democrat Don Lowe, who Cope edged by 80 votes in this month’s election, challenged the idea that his rival is a different kind of Republican.

“I don’t think that they’re gaining any ground toward diversity with Mr. Cope,” Lowe said. “He’s pretty much a rank-and-file Republican. I think it would be fascinating to watch Mr. Cope tap dance within his own party on the national level, a party that denies gay people the rights he currently enjoys and even features presidential candidates that believe homosexuality can be cured.”

Fellow Republicans characterized Cope as a fiscal conservative who is hawkish on foreign policy, but said they wouldn’t want to speak for him on social issues.

“My guess is the fact that he’s gay will appeal to certain voters that the Republican Party doesn’t typically appeal to,” said George Linkletter, Sherman’s Republican Town Committee chairman.

Danbury GOP Mayor Mark Boughton echoed Linkletter.

“His story helps open the tent to show that our party is an inclusive party,” Boughton said.

But the Family Institute of Connecticut, a leading social conservative group in the state, is eager to apply a litmus test to Cope.

“We would not automatically oppose him simply because he’s gay,” said Peter Wolfgang, the group’s president. “What interests us are his public policy positions. We would want to know where he stands on same-sex marriage.”

Wolfgang said he would also want to know where Cope stands on the First Amendment Defense Act, a religious freedom measure introduced by social conservatives in Congress this year that critics say promotes discrimination on the basis of same-sex marriage.

Connecticut’s top Republican, J.R. Romano, disputed the narrative that the party’s candidates have lacked diversity when interviewed about Cope’s trial balloon.

“We have minorities. We have women,” Romano said. “Look, the Democrats like to play identity politics. I don’t look at things in terms of checking off boxes the way that Democrats do because they’re trying to appeal to interest groups instead of leading.”

Leigh Appleby, a spokesman for the Connecticut Democrats, said Republicans are small tent party when it comes to LGBT rights, equal pay for women and their xenophobic attitudes toward immigrants.

“Democrats are incredibly proud that we’re the party of diversity,” Apple-by said. “We wear that as a badge of honor.”

The last openly gay Republican to run for Congress in Connecticut was New Haven’s Richter Elser, who lost to Democrat Rosa DeLauro in 2002 and 2004 in the 3rd District.; 203-625-4436;

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