Some of the state’s Republicans made it no secret they wanted to make this year’s election a referendum on Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s job performance. But Democratic victories gave Malloy the opportunity Thursday to suggest the minority party was out of touch.
There will be a recount in one state House district, but it’s clear the party makeup of the General Assembly will change little as a result of this week’s elections. Democrats held on to comfortable majorities in both chambers of the legislature and Republicans maintained their numbers.
Hours after the polls closed, State Democratic Chairwoman Nancy DiNardo issued a press release declaring victory.
“Now that voters have spoken, here’s what we know — Governor Malloy wins, the Republicans lose, and the people of Connecticut win,” DiNardo said.
For his part, at his first press briefing since the election, Malloy chose to play coy when asked about Republicans’ efforts to make the election a judgment of his administration.
“Uhm, I wasn’t aware of that,” he said.
Later, he acknowledged he was targeted in some of the mailers aimed at unseating Democratic lawmakers. He said he didn’t recognize the person portrayed in the literature.
“Listen, they chose the strategy and it’s quite clear what that strategy was and that’s in the past. But what I want Democrats to understand is: what is the lesson? And that is every day let’s do our jobs regardless of what our fears are,” Malloy said.
A few of Malloy’s policies were specifically targeted by Republicans. Ads pointed out that Democrats voted for the governor’s budget, raising taxes. Others cited their votes in favor of a controversial law allowing some prison inmates to earn credits to allow them to go before a parole board sooner than they would otherwise be eligible. Republicans opposed the credits being extended to most violent criminals.
But one of that policy’s most outspoken critics, Sen. Len Suzio, R-Meriden, was defeated Tuesday by his Democratic opponent, Dante Bartolomeo.
Malloy said that what Democrats should take away from the results is that they shouldn’t be afraid to make difficult decisions. While the decisions may be politically unpopular, the state’s residents understand that tough choices sometimes need to be made, he said.
“The people of Connecticut are smarter than some parties give them credit for, or at least one party gives them credit for,” he said.
But House Republican leader Lawrence Cafero said that if Democrats take this election as a referendum on the governor’s policies they supported, they do so at their own peril. Cafero said it’s disappointing that the Republicans didn’t pick up any seats in the state legislature, but he notes that they didn’t lose any either.
That’s uncommon in a presidential election when many people who don’t often vote get out to the polls. With registered Democrats outnumbering Republicans in Connecticut, Cafero said presidential years are always problematic for the state’s GOP candidates.
“The focus was on the presidential race. It’s always been a problem with Republicans, especially in New England,” he said.
Despite top-ticket Democrats out-performing their Republican opponents by wide margins, state Republicans held on to their numbers, he said. Ten of the races they did lose were within 300 votes, Cafero said, adding that if the gap had been even a little smaller in both the presidential and U.S. Senate races, he might have been the leader of the majority caucus next year.
State Republicans did send out mailers, but Cafero said they were buried in a mountain of other political advertisements.
“Our mailings were lumped in with 17 other mailers about Romney and Obama and Linda McMahon,” he said.
Cafero said he can’t wait until 2014. That election will be all about state politics, and so far the state’s economy hasn’t turned around, Cafero said.
“If the governor and the legislature are interpreting this as a referendum on them and that somehow they passed — oof. Good luck,” he said.
The governor’s senior communication adviser Roy Occhiogrosso said Republicans weren’t citing the impact of the presidential election last week when they were calling the election a referendum on Malloy. He suggested they changed their tone because of a lackluster performance by their caucuses on Tuesday.
“For these guys to be twisting themselves into pretzels over what they were saying last week is actually kind of amusing,” Occhiogrosso said.
Cafero may give President Obama credit for Democratic victories in Connecticut, but Malloy credits House and Senate leadership for running strong campaigns. Malloy suggested the Republican Party may be out of touch with demographic shifts in the population.
“I think you can already hear people having those debates within the party. I hope they air all their dirty laundry publicly,” Malloy said.