So, here we are again. Dan Malloy has defeated Tom Foley by a slim margin, after an election troubled by frustration and incompetence at the polls in one of our cities. After all that, after a wearying election that was far more about fear, money, and blame than policy, government, or even the idea of the next four years, we’re right back where it all began.
First, the nuts and bolts of the election, and of why Malloy managed to eke out another win: Foley did a lot better in the most rural areas of the state, and he did manage to increase his margins in a few of the more Republican-friendly towns in lower Fairfield County. But Malloy narrowed the gap in the Hartford and New Haven suburbs, held on to the southeast coastline, and kept the same massive lead in the big cities and key inner suburbs as he’d had in 2010.
A lot of towns voted just about exactly how they did four years ago, give or take a couple hundred votes. I create election maps by filling in the color for each town, based on margin of victory, and I used the 2010 map as a template for the 2014 one. This saved a lot of time, because I was able to leave many towns the same. They didn’t change at all. The most likely predictor of who you voted for in this election, I believe, was who you voted for in 2010. Steady habits.
To illustrate how much of a re-run this election was, only seven towns that I could find, Danbury, Derby, Waterford, Lyme, Old Lyme, East Hampton, and Chaplin, actually voted for a different candidate in this election than they did in 2010. The rest was a matter of degree. It’s worth comparing the maps of the two elections, because the sameness is striking.
And yet it’s not that simple, because the context has changed. In 2010, pretty much every Connecticut Democrat not named Malloy sailed to victory. That didn’t happen this time. Republicans picked up 10 seats in the state House of Representatives, and one in the Senate. Also, several of the races for constitutional officers, which usually have been landslides for the Democrats since the 1990s, were surprisingly close. Treasurer Denise Nappier nearly lost to Republican Tim Herbst, and Peter Lumaj came much closer than anyone expected to beating Secretary of the State Denise Merrill.
House Minority Leader Larry Cafero was ecstatic about the good night Republicans had. “People say this is a blue state,” he said. “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.”
There’s something to that. There are deep Republican roots growing beneath the layers of Democratic officeholders here in the northeastern part of the country, and every once in a while, those roots are visible. In Massachusetts, Republican Charlie Baker won the governorship. And in Vermont, Democratic Gov. Peter Shumlin couldn’t manage to win a majority, meaning the race will be decided by the state legislature.
And yet, despite running in two years that had the best climate for Republicans in a long, long time, Tom Foley couldn’t put Dan Malloy away. Part of the reason for that is that Malloy is scrappy, and he finishes strong. But the bigger problem is Foley himself. Foley, like Mitt Romney, is an awkward, flawed candidate who just couldn’t connect with people. He couldn’t crack the cities, and he couldn’t squeeze enough votes out of marginal towns.
Foley didn’t change at all between 2010 and 2014; he ran as the same guy, and lost in the same way. He never found an effective way to counter the “heartless capitalist” narrative, and he never articulated a real vision for the state. Not even Joe Visconti’s abrupt departure from the race just before the election could save him. He was, as Republicans are realizing now, the wrong man for the job.
Where does this leave us? A lot of people who voted against the governor did so out of the fear that if he won, the future would look too much like the past. The biggest challenge Gov. Malloy is faced with is making sure that the next four years are better than the last four, and that Connecticut doesn’t end up stuck on repeat forever.
Susan Bigelow is an award-winning columnist and the founder of CTLocalPolitics. She lives in Enfield with her wife and their cats.
DISCLAIMER: The views, opinions, positions, or strategies expressed by the author are theirs alone, and do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions, or positions of CTNewsJunkie.com.