The story of the Democrats’ two big wins can be told entirely in the cities. Chris Murphy won the U.S. Senate race in exactly two cities: New Haven and Bridgeport. His margin in those places alone was enough to overcome Linda McMahon’s margins in all the towns she won. In the 5th Congressional District, Elizabeth Esty won her entire margin of victory in Meriden, New Britain, and Waterbury. Again, she did not need any other towns. The importance of the cities in Democratic victories has been apparent in the last three election cycles: Jim Himes defeated Chris Shays in the 4th Congressional District in 2008 entirely because of the cities of Bridgeport, Stamford, and Norwalk; Dannel P. Malloy was elected governor in 2010 almost entirely because of his strong support from the cities; and of course this year’s results also prove cities’ electoral power. While it may not be true forever, for now the cities rule Connecticut politics.
2. Elizabeth Esty
This story needs repeating. All the “smart” money bet on then House Speaker Chris Donovan to get the Democratic nomination for Congress in the 5th district. Despite obvious weaknesses that would make it hard for Donovan to win this seat for the Democrats in a general election, few people were willing to step up in the primaries and take him on. Elizabeth Esty did. She ran an excellent primary campaign that was admittedly aided by the scandal involving Donovan’s staff. The general election results make clear the importance of her primary win over Donovan, as Esty did as well as any Democratic nominee could do in the cities. What enabled her to win was that she kept the margin down in all the more Republican parts of the district. This is exactly what Donovan, who was more closely aligned with unions, would not have been able to do, even before the scandal. Esty showed courage in taking on a hard challenge and saved the seat for the Democrats. That makes her a big winner.
3. State-level Republicans
Obama won Connecticut by 18 points. Murphy won the Senate race by 12 points. Yet, with Republican carnage at the top of the ticket, the party kept the same number of seats in both the state Senate and House. It is hard to get an exact read on why some individual races did not go the Democrats’ way, as they had a remarkable number of incredibly close calls. (Democrats lost four state Senate races by fewer than 2,500 votes each.) Obama’s support also was much more highly concentrated this time in districts that already had Democratic office holders. Still, aside from the top of the ticket, Connecticut Republicans had a very good election in 2010, picking up 2 seats in the Senate (including 1 in a special) and 14 in the House. They ratified those gains in 2012. With a Democratic governor, the margin in the state legislature matters less. Yet, state-level Republicans had a good night.
Polling in the Senate race wasn’t perfect. It underestimated Murphy’s support by a pretty large amount. The average of the last polls had Murphy with a 5-point lead, but he won by about twice that. Yet, the polls had McMahon’s support pretty well pegged. She was polling at 43.6 percent based on the average and ended up at 43.2 percent. Although the polls didn’t do great on the margin, they did tell who was going to win and established that by early October.
1. Linda McMahon
This is self-evident. McMahon spent nearly $100 million dollars to lose two races by twelve points each. Looking at the margins in the cities and for the President, it becomes clear there was almost nothing McMahon could possibly have done to win this race this year. She still deserves to be on this list for one reason. Her debate performance made clear that she didn’t take the time between races to become any more knowledgeable about public policy. That was something she could have fixed. To this day and after all the advertising, I still don’t know why McMahon so desperately wanted to be a U.S. Senator. She didn’t stake out any new public policy positions. She didn’t even have one overriding issue, as Democratic nominee Ned Lamont had with the Iraq war in 2006. It is a sad legacy that deserves the top loser spot.
2. Money (particularly for TV)
This is the corollary to McMahon’s losing posture. She didn’t become a better candidate in 2012 than she was in 2010 and therefore all of her spending was pretty much in vain. The same is true for a last minute rush of out-of-state and Greenwich super PAC money that attempted to flood the zone against a lot of Democrats. Money is not able to change voting behavior, particularly once the saturation point has been hit. The best money spent was on get-out-the-vote efforts in the 5th District’s cities for Esty. Buying every ad possible or putting people in T-shirts is not a real effort to change voter behavior. You would hope people in the future will think before dropping a million dollars on last-second television ads.
3. Voter turnout
Sadly, despite early predictions of turnout being on pace to reach the state’s 2008 numbers, in the end 83,237 fewer people voted than in the last presidential election. This is a drop of about 5 percent, which is not a huge number, but it’s nothing to sneeze at. The turnout dropped unevenly across the state, with some areas recording slightly more votes and some areas seeing even larger falloffs. Sandy’s after effect could be partly to blame, as well as less excitement compared to the 2008 election. So much negative advertising on both sides may also have turned off voters. Whatever the reason, turnout was down.
4. Unaffiliated Voters
Of the state’s registered voters, 42 percent are registered with no political party. It is not possible to know how these unaffiliated voters voted in this election. The closest we can come is to look at how self-identified independents said they voted in exit polls. They were 32 percent of the electorate and they voted for McMahon by eight points. She was still defeated by 12 points. The self-identified electorate was 42 percent Democratic, basically the same as it was in 2008 and 2010. Unaffiliated voters also vote less, and care less. It’s maybe nice to think of them as being all-important, but in reality, Democrats now are the most important political group in the state. Democrats still need a chunk of unaffiliated voters to win, but certainly not a majority, as is often reported, or anything close to that. The reign of the “U” is over.
Too soon to tell:
Dannel P. Malloy.
The power of the cities and the Democratic machine shined in this election as Obama and Murphy crushed their opponents. On the state level, however, the electorate seemed to go out of its way not to reward state-level Democrats. It didn’t punish them either. But there were a decent number of results closer than expected. It will be interesting to see what will happen in the gubernatorial year of 2014 with no U.S. Senate race or issues of national concern on the ballot. Will turnout still be enough to power the governor through? Will he have succeeded in making any new friends that he didn’t have in 2010, or are we headed for an absolute barnburner just like we had then? The results in 2012 don’t provide any guidance. It will be an interesting two years.
Jason Paul is a Connecticut Democratic political operative from West Hartford and a University of Connecticut Law School student.