(Updated 3:17 a.m.) It was the first upset of the evening for House Democrats. Rep. Steve Fontana —thought to be the frontrunner in the race to fill the majority leader position being vacated by Denise Merrill — lost by about 6 percent of the vote to his Republican opponent in North Haven, Dave Yaccarino.
Fontana wasn’t alone. Final numbers indicated Democrats had lost 14 seats in the state House of Representatives. Eleven incumbents went down in defeat and three open seats were taken by Republicans, but recounts are pending in several of them.
In a phone interview, Fontana, who chaired the legislature’s Insurance Committee, said he thinks he was a victim of the anti-incumbent tsunami sweeping the nation.
In the Democratic caucus room staffers and colleagues were shocked by the defeat.
Fontana said his supporters were discouraged by the negative ads and chose not to come out and vote and it made a difference. Fontana wasn’t sure what he would do next because he wasn’t expecting to be defeated but said he’d like to continue to serve the public in some way.
Another surprising upset for Democrats was Rep. Ted Graziani of Ellington, who chaired the Select Committee on Veterans.
“All in all we won pretty big,” House Speaker Chris Donovan said as he stood staring at the numbers on a projections screen. He said they may not have maintained their super majority, but it doesn’t matter since they’ll have a Democratic governor.
Admittedly there were surprises in some of the raced, Donovan said. “There’s local issues in every race and sometimes there’s no way to account for it,” he said.
Donovan said in the municipal election Fontana’s district had gone more Republican.
The upset had some recalling the 2002 defeat of former Canton Rep. Jesse Stratton, who wanted to challenge Moira Lyons for Speaker of the House. Fontana was thought to be on a path to becoming the next Speaker within a few years.
Donovan said he was also surprised by Graziani’s upset by a count of 88 votes. Other Democratic lawmakers to lose Tuesday include Rep. Theresa Conroy, Elizabeth Esty, Thomas Kehoe, Jason Bartlett, Peggy Reeves, Corky Mazurek, Annie Hornish, and Jim O’Rourke.
Donovan joked that Democrats picked up a seat when they won retiring Rep. Shawn Johnston’s seat. Johnston was a Democrat, but he stopped caucusing with the Democrats and usually voted with the Republicans.
Earlier, former House Speaker James Amann of Milford, who was in charge of the caucus two years ago, said he expected the House to lose maybe six to eight seats. He said he would be surprised if Republicans picked up 14 seats.
Amann said he thinks six or eight seats is “irrelevant” because Democrats will still have a large enough majority to override the governor. But Amann’s predictions ended up being wrong and Democrats did lose their super majority.
The House, which currently went into the election with 114 Democratic members, needed 101 votes to maintain its super majority. Before the recounts it looked like it had held onto 100.
Senate Democrats looked as if they would retain about 20 of their 24 seats.
Derek Slap, spokesman for the Senate Democrats, said Sen. Thomas Colapietro of Bristol lost and at least one of the open seats is “too close to call.” It’s also unclear if Sen. Anthony Musto of Bridgeport will win based on the voter uncertainty in Bridgeport.
As of 10:30 p.m. Sen. Edith Prague of Columbia still looked like she could win in what was a close challenge by Sean Sullivan.
As voting tallies came in from across the state at Republican headquarters in New Britain, officials were tied up with attorneys behind closed doors. Liz Kurantowicz, chief of staff for the Republicans, could not comment on what the talks were about, but it’s possible the were related to the debacle in Bridgeport. Secretary of the State Susan Bysiewicz reported tonight that GOP Chairman Chris Healy filed a legal challenge to her request to extend voting hours in the city.
But even as they worked to get voters in Bridgeport out to the polls, Republican officials said they were pleased with their efforts in New Britain. New Britain RTC Chairman Dwight Blint said about 80 percent of registered Republicans in New Britain cast votes today. He estimated Democratic turnout at about 40 percent.
“We’re pretty optimistic,” Blint said.
But, he added, there are about 3,500 Republicans in New Britain and about 11,500 Democrats, so even with the high turnout of Republican voters, the Democrats have likely cast more votes.
Blint said the undecided voters could swing the votes. About 25 percent of unregistered voters in New Britain came out today.
“It should be close,” he said.
Moments later, bursts of cheers and applause came from the Republican headquarters Tuesday night, as the first poll results put some Republican state legislators ahead of Democrat incumbents.
“We’re beginning our Republican-American coalition,” exclaimed Chris Healy, chairman of the Connecticut Republican Party.
In the Senate Republican Jason Welch defeated Thomas Colapietro and in the House Chris Davis, Dave Yaccarino, Leonard Green, Prasad Srinivasan and Christie Carpino will replace Democrats.
“Tom Colapietro losing was the highlight of my night,” Healy said.
Colapietro, a long-time incumbent, lost to Welch by 1,200 votes, according to the Associated Press.
Before the election, Republicans held 12 of the 36 seats in the Senate and 37 of the 151 seats in the House.
Along with Davis, Healy said he said he was happy to see Carpino topple incumbent Jim O’Rourke, who is one of the few lawmakers left that voted for the state income tax back in 1991.
Healy said he wasn’t surprised at Carpino’s win, but was “pleasantly surprised” that Srinivasan won the 31st District, beating Thomas Kehoe by about 1,300 votes, based on early numbers.
Srinivasan, an Indian-American, represents “a growing community in the state,” Healy said.
The increase of Republicans in the state legislature will begin to breakup the Democrat’s supermajority and Healy said a stronger Republican presence in the state’s House and Senate might help both sides negotiate better.
But the gains at the state level weren’t going to be felt in the U.S. Senate race and the Congressional races where all five Democratic incumbents were re-elected.
Across the country Republicans unseated Democrats or claimed open seats. They won back control of the U.S. House of Representatives.
Connecticut went true blue—bluer than ever. Malloy will have become the first Democrat to win the governor’s office since 1986. Democrat Richard Blumenthal captured an open U.S. Senate seat the party had seemed until only recently in danger of losing. And all five of the state’s U.S. House seats went to Democrats again—even though the 4th and 5th District appeared at times heading to turn red. Democrats also swept the underticket constitutional offices.
Katy Nally contributed to this report from Republican headquarters in New Britain.