WATERBURY, CT — At age 17, Jahana Hayes was a single mother living in Waterbury public housing. She went to school to become a teacher, and eventually was named National Teacher of the Year in 2016.
Tuesday, she continued her her meteoric rise by winning the Democratic Party primary in Connecticut’s 5th Congressional District in overwhelming fashion, putting her one step away from the halls of Congress.
And she did it in overwhelming fashion. In the “Land of Steady Habits,” Democratic primary voters rejected former long-time Simsbury First Selectwoman Mary Glassman — the party’s endorsed candidate — and selected a charismatic political neophyte in Hayes to send her onward to the general election to vye for the seat being vacated by Elizabeth Esty.
Hayes, 46, won 62.2 percent of the vote to Glassman’s 37.8 percent. Glassman, 60, conceded at 9:30 p.m., setting off a raucous celebration at Hayes’ watch party at the Courtyard Downtown Marriott in her hometown of Waterbury.
“Tonight is just the beginning of the fight for the soul of this nation,” Hayes said. “The fight for our morals and our character, the fight for our integrity and a government that aligns with the values that we hold dear.”
Hayes will face former Meriden mayor Manny Santos, who won the Republican Party primary comfortably on Tuesday with 51.7 percent of the vote, well ahead of Southbury’s Ruby Corby-O’Neill and Watertown manufacturer Rich Dupont, who split the remaining vote 26.6 and 21.7 percent respectively.
Hayes is a Wolcott resident who could become the first African-American woman to represent Connecticut in Congress. There has been one African-American to represent Connecticut in Congress previously, former Republican Congressman Gary Franks of Waterbury.
Hayes’ candidacy grabbed the national spotlight after a campaign video of her being honored at the White House by former President Barack Obama went viral. The video helped a fledgling campaign gain national recognition as Hayes went from a political newcomer who got into the race 10 days before the Connecticut Democratic Convention to someone who now appears to be a frontrunner for the open Congressional seat. She also appeared on national cable television and outraised all her rivals despite entering the race with little name recognition or financial backing in June.
Hayes has been in politics for just over 100 days after being encouraged to run by U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy. Murphy stayed neutral in the race publicly, but he was with Hayes Tuesday at the Courtyard by Marriott in downtown Waterbury. He introduced the victor to the crowd.
“I am so proud of this district, so proud of (her supporters) and I am so proud of Jahana Hayes,” Murphy said. “I get to fight side-by-side with her.”
Hayes, fighting back tears, thanked Murphy and her supporters for the support.
“We started this campaign 102 days ago with no money, no network, no people,” Hayes said. “People told me I had no chance.”
Hayes’ large margin over Glassman comes just over 100 days after the two battled in a contentious nominating fight at the 5th Congressional District’s convention. Glassman won the endorsement over Hayes through some vote-switching at the last minute, but even with the support of the Connecticut Democratic Party, Glassman could not overcome Hayes’ charisma or the newness and excitement she brought to the table.
“We wouldn’t have done anything differently,” Glassman said. “We’ve been to all 41 towns over the last three days and what I’ve learned is that we really need to learn about each other. A lot of people are struggling throughout our district and they need help.”
Hayes and Glassman did not differ much on policy — it was biography. Hayes touted her roots growing up in public housing in Waterbury. She also called for a generational shift away from establishment Democratic Party operatives and, if she were to win, said she would not endorse minority leader Nancy Pelosi for Speaker of the House.
“This is about making sure that people from every background, every neighborhood; teachers, firefighters, farmers, factory workers — every person has a voice in Washington,” Hayes said.
Hayes will now take on Santos, the former Meriden mayor who was endorsed at the Republican convention in June. Santos was able to win comfortably despite having less than $30,000 in his campaign coffers. He was at a financial disadvantage to Corby-O’Neill and Dupont, but the lack of any major media buys did not hurt his candidacy. An immigrant from Portugal, Santos has maintained a hard line on immigration and Second Amendment rights and has not been afraid to embrace President Donald Trump’s policies.
“This wasn’t a very easy battle,” Santos told the Hartford Courant. “In fact this is only just the skirmish in the overall battle … and that’s where we have to win.”
Santos said there was a lot at stake in this election and voters understand that.
“They understand real problems, like illegal immigration, unemployment, high taxes and the endless assault on our constitutional rights can be solved only with Republican policies, not the failed Obama and Malloy policies,” Santos said in a statement. “It’s time Connecticut is represented by someone who will fight for the taxpayers.”
The 5th District is a sprawling mix of 41 rural and urban communities including New Britain, Waterbury, and Danbury. At end of July there were 130,283 Democrats registered in the district along with 99,675 Republicans and 175,432 unaffiliated voters.
The district sent Chris Murphy to Congress in 2006 and has elected a Democrat to the seat in every election since. Analysts, however, say the district is trending conservative and has voted for the Republican candidates in the last two gubernatorial elections. Further, Hillary Clinton beat Donald Trump in the district by only four points in 2016.
The Cook Political Report pegs the 5th district as a “likely Democratic” seat, even with it being an open race following Elizabeth Esty’s decision not to run for re-election after failing to react to allegations of sexual harassment and assault against her chief of staff.