WEST HARTFORD, CT — The last debate for the candidates running in the Democratic primary for the 5th Congressional District led to an agreement that there needs to be a sea change in Washington and a disagreement about who is fit to deliver it.
Former Simsbury First Selectwoman Mary Glassman and Wolcott’s Jahana Hayes, a Waterbury native, engaged in an hour-long debate televised on Facebook by NBC Connecticut. There were few policy differences between the two but plenty of fireworks.
Glassman, who received the Democratic Party endorsement in June and has twice run for state office, criticized Hayes for taking donations from out-of-state contributors and even assailed her for taking money from her church due to its stance on same-sex marriage.
On the flipside, Hayes attacked Glassman for once resigning as Simsbury’s First Selectwoman over a pay dispute. She cast her opponent as a member of the old political guard and a perennial candidate unable to inspire new and younger voters who will carry the party into the future.
The personal attacks come with a lot on the line when voters go to the polls next week.
What’s at stake is a spot in the general election in a race that is considered “solid Democrat” by the Cook Political Report. The district has been trending conservative in recent years, with Hillary Clinton beating Donald Trump by only two percentage points in the 2016 presidential election. Those trends will encounter stiff headwinds in November as the climate for Republican candidates nationally remains bleak as many analysts predict a Democratic wave election that could flip control of the U.S. House.
The debate was moderated by NBC’s Max Reiss and produced several interesting exchanges between the candidates.
Glassman wasted little time in going after Hayes’ campaign funding, criticizing the makeup of Hayes donor base. Glassman said that 85 percent of her campaign money comes from in-state donors. She also claimed that 35 percent of Hayes’ funding comes from outside the state. According to the Federal Election Commission filings, Hayes had $359,058 in her campaign account as of July 25. Glassman had $123,619, including a $30,000 loan from herself.
“I am proud my campaign got 85 percent of [our] contributions from Connecticut. You can tell a lot about how someone will act in office by how they run their campaign,” Glassman said. “My opponent received 35 percent of money in state. That’s a difference on how we run our campaign.”
Glassman also assailed a PAC that has run ads in support of Hayes, calling the funding “dark money.”
Hayes indicated she had nothing to do with the PAC that is supporting her — called A New Promise — but thinks that her getting donations from around the country is an indication of her reach and leadership ability.
“I came into this race with no money, no framework, no support, and no network,” Hayes said. “I have outraised everyone on both sides of the aisles — Republicans and Democrats — and am so proud of that. It is hard work and shows what kind of campaign I am running.”
Perhaps the most contentious moment came when Glassman criticized donations from Hayes’ church. Hayes is a Methodist and her branch will not allow or condone same-sex marriages.
Glassman said that the church was Hayes’ biggest donor at approximately $10,000, and she said Hayes should not accept that support.
“I am supportive of same-sex marriage; supportive of equal rights for women. I would not accept that donation,” Glassman said. “I think the (church) does not share my values and I would not have accepted it.”
Hayes vehemently defended the donation, citing that it was a collection from parishioners and not the church leadership.
“I support the LGBTQ community,” Hayes said. “I am a person that always believed that all people have value. That all communities have value. I support the LGBT community. I can be a member of the church and still have that position. My relationship with God is with God.”
Hayes was also on the offensive at times, attacking Glassman’s decision to resign in protest as Simsbury’s First Selectwoman after the town council had cut her pay in 2014. Glassman has used that incident to champion equal pay and equal treatment for women in the workplace.
Hayes called her a quitter.
“It’s confusing. Everything about the (Glassman) platform is how she was elected in a Republican town, but it seems like when it got tricky my opponent quit,” Hayes said. “The job of an elected official is difficult and it will be tricky sometimes. I want to be sure that people in this district know that their representative will stay, will finish their term even when it is difficult, even when it gets tricky.”
On the policy front, the two closely hewed to Democratic principles on healthcare and gun rights. Hayes lauded the Affordable Care Act and believes that there is unfinished business.
“The Affordable Care Act is a first step. It was never seen through to the end. We can’t stop there,” Hayes said. “We have to make sure every child, every adult, every senior has the healthcare they deserve.”
Glassman added the healthcare for all is a goal, but right now with Republican control of both houses and the White House there needs to be more incremental movement.
Gun control also remains a hot topic in the 5th District, which includes Newtown where Sandy Hook Elementary School was the site of one of the worst mass school shootings in the nation’s history in 2012.
“We have a special place in the U.S. to make our voices heard on gun violence,” Glassman said. “I am proud what Connecticut has passed … but it isn’t enough. We have to go to Washington to make sure those same commonsense regulations are passed.”
Hayes wants common sense gun laws, including expanded background checks.
The policies of Glassman and Hayes are similar as Democrats, but tensions remain in the party with new blood such as Hayes vying for a seat against Glassman, whom she paints as an establishment candidate.
Both candidates said they would not support Nancy Pelosi for Speaker of the House if Democrats flip Congress, citing the need for new blood.
Glassman also took issue with the notion she is an insider.
“I am not an insider. I didn’t serve in Washington. I served my community,” Glassman said.
Hayes said the time has come for new blood in Washington and around the country.
“We are at a time where we need a generational shift in our leadership,” Hayes said. “We have to listen to what the people are saying.”