While the Democrats retained their majority in both houses of the General Assembly, Republicans made inroads, picking up at least 10 seats in the House and one in the Senate.
“God, I’m excited,” House Minority Leader Larry Cafero shouted as he approached a group of reporters at Tom Foley’s party in Greenwich late Tuesday night. At least two of the three seats Republicans were hoping to pick up were too close to call at midnight.
“It’s just amazing,” Cafero said of the results. “And it shows a shift. People say this is a blue state. If you look at the people who are in charge of the towns and cities, and you look at the gains we have made in the House, the gains we’ve made in the state Senate, I’m not sure it’s as blue as people think it is.”
The Democratic majority in the Senate is now 21-15, where the Democrats lost one seat. The Republicans captured the 20th District Senate seat held by Andrea Stillman, who retired. Democratic State Rep. Betsy Ritter ran for it, but lost to Republican Paul Formica, the first selectman of East Lyme.
Among the more closely-watched Senate races, Democrat Andrew Maynard won re-election to a fifth term, defeating Republican Kevin Trejo of Groton, even though Maynard was unable to campaign since he suffered a traumatic brain injury from a fall at his home in July.
Democrat Dante Bartolomeo also held off a challenge from Republican Len Suzio, from whom she won the seat in the 13th District two years ago. Democrats had hoped Emily Bjornberg could regain the seat in the 33rd District, lost two years ago to Republican Art Linares after long-time Democratic Sen. Eileen Daly retired, but Linares prevailed.
“I’m happy that we retained our majority and will continue to work on behalf of middle class and working families,” said Senate Democratic spokesman Adam Joseph.
In the House, the decisions by 20 veteran lawmakers not to seek re-election left numerous seats open. In addition, 50 out of 151 House and Senate districts were not challenged by a major party candidate this year.
As of this morning, the Democrats were certain of having 87 seats in the House, according to House Democratic spokesman Gabe Rosenberg, and at least one race was still undecided. Among those joining the Senate will be Ted Kennedy Jr., representing the 12th District.
Most of the seats the Democrats lost were either open, held by freshmen lawmakers, or in southeastern Connecticut, Rosenberg said. Many of the Democrats who lost had supported last year’s gun control bill, which may have hurt them at the polls, he added. Also, the economic recovery has been a little slower in the southeastern part of the state, Rosenberg said, and residents may be feeling frustrated. “Every race is different, every community is different.”
Cafero attributed the night’s Republican gains to a strict adherence to a unified message over the last eight years. “We’ve stayed on point. It was about fiscal responsibility. We decided that social issues we all believed strongly in — that certainly wasn’t going to define us, that fiscal responsibility was, that the economy and jobs were our focus, our message. We were all united,” he said.
Cafero, who did not seek re-election, said he did not view the gains as bittersweet.
“It was my turn to leave, it’s someone else’s turn to lead. I’m just thrilled that whoever takes my place, that caucus is going to be bigger than it was,” he said. “Whenever you do anything in life, folks, you try to leave the place better than you found it. I like to think I did that. What more could I ask for.”
Legislative Republicans often played Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s adversary over the past four years, Cafero said.
“It appeared to be a one party state, somebody had to stand up and say, ‘Hey there’s something wrong going on here.’ Somebody had to point out the errors, somebody had to point out the missteps, somebody had to pull back the curtain and say ‘This is what’s really going on,’” he said. “I think we did it for the governor’s entire first term and I think it matters.”
Hugh McQuaid contributed to this report