The first thing this map shows us is an overwhelming victory for Dan Malloy. Even I was shocked by just how many towns he won, and by how many towns, conversely, Ned Lamont had lost.
As usual, I started looking for patterns. Most elections have some sort of geographic and demographic pattern to follow which helps to unlock why certain things happened. But, looking at the small scattering of towns won by Ned Lamont, I have to confess: there is no pattern. I just don’t see one. And that right there is the story of this election.
Let’s go back a few cycles. In August, 2006 a highly motivated coalition of antiwar liberal Democrats rocketed Ned Lamont to victory. They proved unable to win the general election for Lamont, but their presence helped tip the scales against two longtime Republican members of Congress: Nancy Johnson and Rob Simmons. In fact, the success of Lamont was in some ways a precursor to the huge Democratic gains that year.
In February of 2008, the next statewide primary, Connecticut Democrats gave Barack Obama a narrow win over Hillary Clinton. When I mapped out the 2008 primary I noticed a distinct relationship to the 2006 primary map. The winners in each case were strong in the cities, Litchfield County, Fairfield County, the extreme southeast of the state, Middlesex County, the Farmington Valley, the UConn area, and certain wealthier suburban towns. This was the footprint of the progressive, anti-establishment Democratic coalition that delivered for both Lamont and Obama.
So, where is that coalition now? The towns won by Lamont seem almost random, scattershot across the map. Sure, he won (barely) in Hartford and Bridgeport, but lost New Haven and all of the smaller cities. Lamont won two Litchfield towns, but the rest went for Malloy. He won in his hometown of Greenwich and in Ridgefield, but nowhere else in suburban Fairfield County. What about West Hartford? Mansfield? Windsor? Cornwall? Windham? These reliable liberal towns all went for Malloy. The closest the map comes to showing any kind of pattern whatsoever is the thin line of Farmington Valley towns. Embarrasingly, Lamont’s biggest win came in Simsbury—probably only because his running mate is the town’s First Selectwoman.
First, Lamont was presumably the progressive favorite, but he may have made a mistake by trying to run to the center before the primary was over. This allowed Malloy to poach territory with unions and other traditional Democratic groups on his left flank, leaving progressives with little beyond memories to rally around when it came to Lamont. Many of them either stayed home or voted for Malloy.
Second, it’s obvious that Malloy and his campaign understood the nature of this primary. The conventional wisdom was that the cities were locked up for Lamont, but Malloy campaigned there anyway and either won or came very close. He also aggressively courted unions, and by and large was successful (this may come back to haunt him in the general election). Malloy also came on strong right at the end of the campaign, which is when most likely voters were waking up to the idea that yes, there was in fact a primary happening. Lamont’s run of negative ads and mailers at the end of the campaign didn’t help either—it seems they had a much worse effect than Malloy’s negative ads, which ran earlier.
Lastly, this is a state election, focused solely on Connecticut issues, and the kinds of voters who turn out to choose who goes to Washington may act very differently, or may not turn out at all, for these contests. There is a strong possibility, after all, that Malloy might have won had Lamont not shared a ballot line with John DeStefano in 2006.
So what does this mean for the coalition of progressive Democrats that won in 2006 and 2008? They’re probably still there. They may show up again in 2012 to decide who will take on Joe Lieberman. But this year, they seem dormant—and not just in Connecticut. It’s impossible not to ask whether that could be another sign of trouble for Democrats trying to hold on to majorities in Washington. Activist energy helps drive turnout, and if Democrats don’t have it, they could be in for a very long winter.
(note: blank areas on the map had no data available at the time of writing)
Chris Bigelow is the former owner/author of Connecticut Local Politics. She lives in Enfield with her wife and cats.