With control of the state Senate hanging in the balance, voters in two Senate districts headed to the polls Tuesday to see if they could upset a deal brokered by party leaders.
They didn’t. Things ended up exactly as party leaders assumed they would.
Senate leadership agreed back in January to allow two of their own resign and take more lucrative government jobs. Senate President Martin Looney, D-New Haven, and Senate Republican President Len Fasano, R-North Haven, felt the 32nd and the 2nd state senate districts were safely in the hands of their respective parties.
Early in the day after casting the 36th vote at the Hartford Seminary, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said he didn’t believe the outcome of the special election would be reflective of anything aside from which candidate did more work.
However, the Republicans tried to make the election a referendum on Malloy, and the Democrats tried to harness progressive enthusiasm against Republican President Donald Trump.
“We’re relying on grassroots enthusiasm,” Leigh Appleby, a spokesman for the Connecticut Democratic Party, said.
Outside money also sought to influence the outcome of the race in the state’s 32nd Senate District, which includes 10 towns from Bethlehem to Oxford. Wolf PAC, a liberal organization, spent more than $53,000 in support of Democratic candidate Greg Cava. Meanwhile, Grow Connecticut, a fiscally conservative group that was the first group to use independent expenditures in Connecticut, spent about $12,000 in support of Republican state Rep. Eric Berthel.
Liz Kurantowicz, founder of Grow Connecticut, said she invested in helping Republicans hold onto the 32nd District seat because “you can’t take anything for granted.” She said history shows that it’s a solidly Republican district, but “Democrats nationally are using this as a rally cry.”
Kurantowicz was right.
Shortly after the results were tallied Connecticut Democratic Party Chairman Nick Balletto issued a statement about how much ground Democrats made up in what is considered a safe Republican district.
“Tonight’s election results show just how fired up Connecticut Democrats are,” Balletto wrote. “In a deep-red district that Republicans carried by 35 points in 2016, Democrats organized, got out the vote, and made it a competitive race. While Greg Cava came up short, make no mistake: Democrats across Connecticut are sickened by Donald Trump’s attacks on our values and are ready to get to work on the 2017 and 2018 elections.”
Republicans have held the 32nd District seat for more than a century. The last Democratic senator elected there was in 1891. Currently, 44 percent of the voters are unaffiliated, 29 percent are Republicans and 25 percent are Democrats.
There was no outside money spent on the 2nd state Senate race between Democratic state Rep. Doug McCrory, Republican Michael McDonald, and write-in candidate Aaron Romano. The district includes the north end of Hartford, Bloomfield and Windsor.
It didn’t take long for McDonald to realize he didn’t have the support he needed in Windsor and Bloomfield to pull off an upset against the Democratic machine in Hartford.
McDonald called McCrory to concede the race shortly before 9 p.m.
McDonald said he was incredibly proud of the campaign he ran in the span of about four weeks and believes it foreshadows a good showing for Republicans in 2018.
“Republicans are going to take the state in 2018,” McDonald said.
All four major party candidates in both districts qualified for more than $71,000 in public campaign funds.
McDonald was largely able to raise the $11,000 he needed to qualify for the $71,000 grant by telling people that Malloy was after their money and he was the only one who could stop the governor by helping Republicans gain control of the state Senate.
“You can stop Governor Malloy’s irresponsible spending habits,” one of McDonald’s mailers says. “Connecticut’s future is in your hands!”
Windsor Democrats said they believed McDonald was the first Republican to qualify for public election funds in Windsor.
McCrory said that after 12 years in the House he was the best candidate for the job and he has the relationships necessary to deliver for his district.