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Friday, April 27 News

Hog wild: Bentivegna drops Congress bid after confrontation at GOP Town Committee

EDITOR'S NOTE: Here's a report by Hearst Connecticut Media reporter Neal Vigdor on the confrontation at this week's meeting of the Fairfield Republican Town Committee that caused Fairfielder Joseph Bentivegna to drop out of the race for the GOP nomination in the 4th Congressional District:

By Neal Vigdor

Joe Bentivegna confirms that he has withdrawn from the GOP nominating race for Congress in the 4th District.

"The incident with Fairfield caused me to lose the delegation," Bentivegna told Hearst Connecticut Media late Friday. "With that, there is no way that I have a path to the 15 percent. I was going to lose that vote."

Bentivegna sounded blase about suspending his candidacy.

"That's life," he said. "What are you gonna do?"

- Here is the original account of what led to Bentivegna's withdrawal:

It's one thing to be accused of being pig-headed.

But then there's this: the GOP boss of Fairfield says that 4th District congressional hopeful Joe Bentivegna called him a porcine profanity during the town party's endorsement session Thursday night.

Jamie Millington told Hearst Connecticut Media that Bentivegna "went nuts" when he explained that Fairfield's 17 delegates are free to switch their allegiances to another candidate at the upcoming 4th District nominating convention for Congress even though Bentivegna received the endorsement of the local Republican Town Committee.

"Then he goes, `You're a pig (f'er),' " Millington said. "The whole room ended up going silent. I was so surprised that a congressional candidate would address the chairman of party and (endorsement session) that he just won with such profanity. I go, "This is disgraceful that you would even use that language here.' I said something like, `This is why you're not going to be a viable candidate.' "

Bentivegna, who is from Fairfield, accused the local party's leaders in an interview Friday of rigging the process so that the delegates flip to the establishment candidate, Dan Debicella.

"I won fair and square and now they want to cheat it from me," Bentivegna said.

Bentivegna did not dispute accounts of his choice of words.

"At this point, I became upset and called him a corpulent p f'er," Bentivegna said. "I have apologized for that."

The majority of RTC members -- Bentivegna put the number at 30 and Millington put it at 29 -- voted to endorse Bentivegna Thursday night. Debicella, who was not present, claimed 24 votes.

Under the winner-take-all system used by Fairfield, the 17 delegates would presumptively cast their votes for Bentivegna at next Friday's nominating convention.

Bentivegna needs 15 percent of the 221 total delegates to qualify for an August primary against Debicella, who is the frontrunner and was the GOP nominee in 2010 against Democratic incumbent Jim Himes.

"You've got to understand, every waking hour I'm not working I'm trying to get this 15 percent," Bentivegna said. "If I get the 15 percent, I'm the next congressman."

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But if it becomes apparent that the voting is a runaway at the convention, Millington said, delegates are free to switch after the first round of voting for the good of the party.

"He's like, `No, no, you're gonna have to make sure they all stay with me,' " said Millington, who is personally supporting Debicella.

Millington said the town GOP is reconsidering its endorsement of Bentivegna after the fracas.

"A couple of them don't think in good conscious that they can cast a vote for him at this point," Millington said. "The fact that he flies off the handle this quickly over things like this is alarming. God knows what he would say to Jim Himes in a public forum if he doesn't like what he's saying. This guy's running for U.S. Congress."

Bentivegna characterized Thursday's vote as a triumph for his insurgent campaign.

"You could just see the blood drain out of their face," he said. "It was the final insult."