While they will no longer be dining on sandwiches from a controversial chicken restaurant, as many as 500 Republicans will still gather in Monroe on Saturday afternoon to unify for the fall elections.
Mitch Beck, who's throwing the huge celebration at his 272 Fan Hill Road home, which will be attended by Republican leaders and supporters, said that his plan to bring in 100 Chick-fil-A sandwiches for the occasion was scrapped.
The restaurant chain was embroiled in controversy this month when its owners's stance against gay marriage became a focus of civil-right debate.
Beck, an executive recruiter, said he ordered 100 sandwiches from the nearest Chick-fil-A restaurant -- across the Tappan Zee Bridge in Paramus, N.J. -- as a show of support for management's First Amendment rights.
But the marriage issue -- same-sex marriage is legal in Connecticut -- made Beck rethink it. So he plans to donate 90 of the 100 sandwiches to a Bridgeport homeless shelter and he'll keep 10 for himself to see what they taste like.
"It was never about gay marriage," Beck said. He said the sandwich issue was threatening to overtake the importance of the event, which is an attempt to bring Republicans, including 30 candidates for office, to meet each other and help increase the party's profile in the state.
There will be other food available at the picnic.
"Right now the country is trying to decide whether it wants a European-style socialism, or a capitalist society," Beck said. "It's that stark and that's why it's so important. The state is primed for change." Beck said there will be free parking at the nearby Fan Hill School and shuttle buses will be moving people back and forth. State Senate Minority Leader John McKinney will be the keynote speaker.
"If Republicans don't start working together, we're going to be outnumbered even more," Beck said. "And we can't be limited to our own back yards. We have to work, make phone calls, knock on doors. Between Democrats and the unaffiliated we're out-numbered two to one." The latest statistics from the secretary of the state show 723,035 registered Democrats in Connecticut, 412,509 Republicans and 818,703 unaffiliated.
Democratic State Central Committee Chairwoman Nancy DiNardo would not let go of the chicken issue.
"While the Republicans gather together to celebrate their unity and discuss issues like whether or not to serve Chick-fil-A for lunch, Democrats across the state are talking to voters about the issues that matter to them -- jobs, education and health care," DiNardo said in a statement late Friday afternoon.
"The largest Republican event to date this election season has focused on their squabble over chicken and if they can strut alongside those who want to roll back decades of civil rights advances," she said, "Surely those in elected positions in our government could use the time for more constructive things than the logistics of purchasing food in New Jersey for an event in Connecticut."