McMahon, Dadakis honored at annual GOP Prescott Bush dinner

Former Florida governor and possible 2016 presidential candidate Jeb Bush delivered the keynote address at the 36th annual Prescott Bush Awards Dinner named in memory of his grandfather. —John Ferris Robben

Former Florida governor and possible 2016 presidential candidate Jeb Bush delivered the keynote address at the 36th annual Prescott Bush Awards Dinner named in memory of his grandfather. —John Ferris Robben

It was a night designed to boost the fortunes of the Connecticut Republican Party, and Greenwich had a starring role in it.

On April 10, the party faithful gathered for the 36th annual Prescott Bush Awards Dinner, an event named after the late U.S. Sen. Prescott Bush, a Greenwich resident and the father of President George H.W. Bush and grandfather of President George W. Bush. Two of the three awards went to Greenwich residents during the festivities, as Ed Dadakis received the Fenton Pat Futtner Award and Linda McMahon was given the Prescott Bush Sr. Award.

Ms. McMahon, who ran unsuccessful campaigns for the U.S. Senate in 2010 and 2012, has been a major fund-raising source in the party, and in her remarks, said she was thrilled to receive the award. But she quickly followed that up by saying she knew that simply getting awards was not the party’s goal.

“We need to mobilize our support to get good Republicans to seek political office, to mobilize our forces on the ground and to win in November,” Ms. McMahon said, recalling her promise at her 2012 concession speech that she was “not done” and saying she would continue to stay involved and voice concerns and new ideas.

“I believe in the vision of the Republican Party,” Ms. McMahon said, urging others to get more involved.

Painting a bright future for the Republican Party also fell to the night’s keynote speaker, someone with a very personal connection to the event. Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush is the grandson of the evening’s namesake and the son and brother of former presidents himself. He is also a much-speculated about potential candidate for the 2016 presidential race and as he defended the controversial legacy of his brother’s presidency, claiming history would prove him right for the decisions he made, he said that the kind of leadership the country needs is already in place among the Republicans.

Criticizing the nation’s economic performance and foreign policy under President Barack Obama, Mr. Bush said that what is needed is what the Republicans have always represented.

“That kind of leadership is timeless and it’s not too far away from us,” Mr. Bush said. “It’s the leadership of determination and courage and humility. It’s trying to find common ground without violating principle. It’s the kind of leadership we need today, and my grandfather and my dad were examples of that for all of us.”

The event is one of the top fund-raisers for the party, and spirits were high among the GOP faithful there, a crowd that included First Selectman Peter Tesei and Selectman David Theis as well as several Republican members of the Board of Estimate and Taxation and top Republican supporters from town. Gubernatorial candidate Tom Foley, a town resident, was also at the event, along with several of the other candidates for state and federal office, and party officials expressed a lot of confidence in their chances in November.

“Connecticut’s comeback begins tonight,” Republican Party Chairman Jerry Labriola Jr. declared to big applause from the crowd at the Stamford Hilton as speakers trained their fire on Gov. Dannell Malloy in particular. Mr. Malloy is up for re-election this year after a narrow win in 2010 and Mr. Foley, who lost that race, is again considered the Republican front-runner headed into next month’s convention. Recent polls have shown Mr. Malloy and Mr. Foley neck and neck in a 2010 rematch.

Connecticut is considered a blue state, given its recent history of supporting Democratic candidates to federal office and the majorities the party enjoys in the state legislature, but Mr. Labriola said Connecticut Republicans had an “unprecedented opportunity” for victory in November thanks to “an amazing slate of candidates.” And while the repeated shout-outs to the University of Connecticut’s championship men’s and women’s basketball teams drew the loudest applause of the night, there was plenty of love for the candidates as well.

“As Republicans there are a few things we all know,” Mr. Labriola said, claiming the state’s economy will be “owned” by Mr. Malloy in this election. “We cannot continue to cripple our economy with higher taxes and out-of-control spending. We know we cannot continue to borrow recklessly and then declare we have a surplus.”

That message was echoed by Mr. Dadakis, a former chairman of the Greenwich Republican Town Committee, who joked that Connecticut was “last in everything but basketball.”

“I believe there is a future governor, future congressman and probably a future senator in this room tonight,” Mr. Dadakis said. “I also believe that it is primarily the people in this room that will get them elected. So we all have a lot of work to do.”

He later added, “Being a Republican is all about heart. There’s this idea that Republicans are somehow heartless and it’s become generally accepted and has hindered our ability to market this party for our youth. But isn’t it instead heartless to expect less than every person’s true potential? Isn’t it heartless to assume people must be coddled or given things in life they should rightfully earn themselves? Isn’t it heartless to saddle future generations with debt? Republicans believe the most important entitlement is for each human being to have the freedom and opportunity to fulfill their own potential.”

The Fenton Pat Futtner Award is given to people who have shown long service to the party and are considered “unsung.” Mr. Dadakis was honored for his decades of work on Republican campaigns, and he even recalled going up to New Hampshire in February 1988 to work with Mr. Bush and his siblings hand-painting signs for President George H.W. Bush’s campaign. Former state Sen. William Nickerson, in introducing him, simply declared Mr. Dadakis to be “Mr. Republican.”

“This is an individual who has given his life to finding candidates, schooling them, grooming them, financing them, and above all, electing them,” Mr. Nickerson said, adding that Mr. Dadakis was someone who made campaigning fun.

Ms. McMahon received her introduction from her longtime friend state Rep. Livvy Floren (R-149th), who said she not only deserved the highest honor the state party could bestow but had earned it because she exuded honesty, reliability and trustworthiness.

“Linda has always put service first,” Ms. Floren said. “That’s service to family, service to her employees, service to the community, and service to the Republican Party.”

Just as Mr. Dadakis urged Republicans to focus their message on youth, Ms. McMahon talked about making sure the Republican brand appealed to women, noting the huge gender gap in the 2012 election between President Obama and Mitt Romney. She said the party had to do a better job appealing to women, telling the audience that 30 years ago it was an even division among women in Congress between Republicans and Democrats, but today 30% of Democrats in the House of Representatives are women and only 8% of Republicans are and there are no Republican women in the Senate, something she said she had tried hard to change.

“I want people to say I’m proud to be a Republican, especially in a blue state like Connecticut,” Ms. McMahon said. “Republicans believe in freedom and individual merit and opportunity for all. We are the party of Abraham Lincoln who knew our country could not stand if divided.”

Ms. McMahon said Democrats would look to make the gender issue a major one for the 2014 and 2016 elections and try to make it a divided Republican party. But she said it didn’t have to be that way. She said better communication about why Republican policies were good for women was critical.

“If we want to win elections, we have to work not just across the aisle but within our own side of the aisle,” Ms. McMahon said. “We have to remember the GOP can still be the big tent that President Reagan described. We don’t have to agree on every single issue to agree we are Republicans. I ran for office as a Republican because I wanted to develop policies that helped more families have the opportunity to pursue the American dream by starting a business, affording a home, getting a good education, and building a career without being hindered by burdensome taxes and regulations. Let’s rebrand Republicans as the party that gets things done because we know how to do it. Wouldn’t that be a refreshing thing in Washington.”

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