ENFIELD — The mood among the small crowd at state Rep. Penny Bacchiochi’s headquarters went from quiet to upbeat and then back down to tense as results of the Lt. Governor’s race tightened up in the hours after polls closed on Tuesday and appeared to be heading for an automatic recount.
According to the Associated Press, unofficial results showed former Groton Mayor Heather Somers with a slight lead (34.4 percent) over state Rep. State Rep. Penny Bacchiochi (33.6 percent) with 87 percent of precincts reporting as of 10 p.m. Tuesday. Former U.S. Comptroller General David Walker was trailing in third place.
According to spokesman Av Harris of the Secretary of the State’s office, if the candidates are all within 1,000 votes, then the law requires a machine recount within seven days of the primary for all three candidates for Lt. Governor statewide. If just the top two are within 1,000 votes, then the recount is for only the top two vote-getters.
Bacchiochi, one of three Republicans running for the party’s nomination for Lt. Governor, was up early in districts across most of northern Connecticut. But as the evening wore on the numbers showed Walker and Somers drawing closer; by 10 p.m. it was a dead heat. Bacchiochi still hadn’t made an appearance.
She was still returning from criss-crossing the western part of the state throughout the day, according to volunteers.
Walker took the podium in Fairfield shortly after John McKinney’s concession speech and told supporters to relax and enjoy the evening, because the results of the race were going to be late.
Walker said he was happy to have put 21,000 miles on his car as he spoke at 100 events throughout the campaign. He also said he planned to support, in the general election, whomever was declared winner of the Republican nomination, adding, “But as we know, politics is not necessarily a merit-based business, which is why I haven’t been in it previously.”
Around 10 p.m., Somers arrived at her headquarters amid talk that she had taken a slight lead.
Somers said she had started the day at 3 a.m. and said the race was a nailbiter, but touted her victory by more than 400 votes in Stamford, and both she and her campaign manager were feeling confident based on results from other large suburbs.
“What’s so important in this election is that we need to vette our candidates to put the best foot forward to beat Dan Malloy,” she said on CT-N, adding that the state needs candidates who are outsiders and who are not connected to Hartford or Washington — a clear shot at both Bacchiochi and Walker.
Regardless, Bacchiochi was upbeat when she finally entered her headquarters to cheering supporters. She told CT-N that she was preparing for a recount because the results where within a half a percent.
To her supporters, she said she wrote two speeches.
“A concession speech and a victory speech,” she said. “I didn’t plan on a razor-tight race! So I’m gonna wing it for a little bit.”
Bacchiochi said she didn’t know when the final numbers would be in, but she thanked everyone for coming out before quoting Theodore Roosevelt:
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena…” She paused and looked around her supporters. “That’s us, guys.”
“That’s right!” a supporter called back.
“I present to all of you,” Bacchiochi said, “that is us. We are in the arena.”
Win or lose, Bacchiochi finished, “I hope you will all relish this time we spent together.”
Asked about Somers’ attack ads, she said she made a conscious decision not to go negative.
“It’s very hard for women to build themselves up, especially in the Republican Party,” Bacchiochi said.
As the numbers drew to within 1,000 votes, staff and volunteers withdrew into their smartphones as the crowd settled in for a long wait. “Keep smiling,” one person said. As the cheering died down, volunteers started pacing.
Enfield Mayor Scott Kaupin wondered which districts were still being counted. The geography of the race mattered, given that the candidates were separated into southwest, southeast, and north. Did he think Bacchiochi would pull it out? “I hope so,” he said, shaking his head. “I hope so.”
The race was acrimonious, particularly in the days leading up to the Republican convention in May.
Bacchiochi did a guest appearance on WTIC AM 1080 and made unsupported accusations that Walker had make racially charged statements about her husband. Under pressure, she later suggesting it was someone connected with Walker’s campaign, and then was forced to publicly apologize.
Somers pounced on Bacchiochi’s comments with an attack ad accusing her of being an “insider” who accepted money to lobby for medical marijuana and who had called Walker a “racist” before being forced “to retract her ugly comments.”
“Don’t let Penny Bacchiochi blow Republicans’ chances to take down Dan Malloy’s job-crushing agenda,” the narrator says in the ad.
Bacchiochi made no apologies for lobbying for medical marijuana, the only drug that eased the terminal cancer pain of her now-deceased former husband. And she said she’d apologized for the comments she made about Walker.
“I’ve been involved in a lot of campaigns and if you’re losing you go on the attack and if you’re winning you don’t,” Bacchiochi said.