Eva Bermudez Zimmerman, an activist and organizer running her first statewide campaign, should never have been able to give longtime Democratic powerhouse Susan Bysiewicz a run for her money. But she managed to win 40 percent of delegates at the convention despite having jumped into the race only days earlier, and in this week’s primary she grabbed about the same percentage (38 percent) of the vote.

There’s a message there, if Democratic leaders are willing to hear it.

Zimmerman’s candidacy was born out of the deep sense of frustration that people of color have felt about how stiflingly white the party’s top candidates have been. The final straw was the sudden announcement on the eve of the party convention that Ned Lamont, who had been signaling that he might pick a person of color for his running mate, had selected former Secretary of the State Susan Bysiewicz instead.

Things moved quickly after that. Zimmerman, who had discussed the possibility of becoming Lamont’s running mate before he chose Bysiewicz, officially entered the race, setting up both a contentious floor fight and, after Zimmerman captured the necessary 15 percent of the delegates, a primary. If she had won, Zimmerman would have been the first Hispanic statewide nominee. In a state like ours with such a rich Puerto Rican heritage, it’s baffling to realize that hasn’t happened already.

That same frustration gave rise to the candidacy of Jahana Hayes in the 5th Congressional District. Hayes, a former National Teacher of the Year, had the backing of Sen. Chris Murphy and came out of her own primary with a resounding win over former Simsbury First Selectwoman Mary Glassman.

So why did Hayes win while Zimmerman lost? Is it fair to compare these two races because they both featured insurgent women of color who lost at their respective party conventions?

Probably not — especially because the dynamics of the conventions and subsequent primaries were so different.

Lamont presented his choice of Bysiewicz, who up until that point had been running her own gubernatorial campaign, as a necessary move to unify the party. Bysiewicz entered the convention as a longtime Democratic heavyweight with plenty of supporters statewide, while Zimmerman was almost completely unknown. Glassman was somewhat more well known than Hayes, but the two were on a much more equal footing.

The two offices they were running for are very different beasts, as well. A member of Congress would never be called on to take over the operations of a state on a moment’s notice like a lieutenant governor, which meant that the question of experience mattered a lot less for Hayes than it did for Zimmerman.

Official White House Photo by Pete Souza
Hayes also had a powerful backer in Murphy, a compelling and remarkable life story, high-profile endorsements, and the attention of the media. In fact, Hayes’ introduction to the world were through images of her hugging former President Obama as part of the 2016 Teacher of the Year award ceremony. Zimmerman had the backing of several high-profile legislators like Sen. Gary Winfield, D-New Haven, but no one on the level of Murphy, who is arguably the most powerful politician in Connecticut now.

That may be the key difference. Zimmerman was a direct challenge to the party establishment. Hayes had Murphy, who is the party establishment, in her corner.

That may be the key difference. Zimmerman was a direct challenge to the party establishment. Hayes had Murphy, who is the party establishment, in her corner.

Given all of that, the fact that Zimmerman managed to do as well as she did is very indicative of how hungry a lot of Democrats are for a gubernatorial ticket that isn’t just two white faces. Make no mistake, Zimmerman’s run was meant to be a wake-up call. Just because she lost by 20 percentage points doesn’t mean that Democrats should feel free to ignore it, either.

Obviously Democrats need to pay attention to people of color, who are the absolute bedrock of the party, if they ever want to win elections. But Democrats need to take this seriously for another reason. For that, let’s go to the map.

Here I’ve mapped out the level of support for Zimmerman in each town. She only won a handful of towns, but she did very well in quite a few others, exceeding 40 percent. I expected to see a map showing strong support in the cities and lukewarm support everywhere else.

But that’s not what I see.

Yes, there’s strength in the cities — Zimmerman won New Haven, Bridgeport, and Waterbury. But she also won rapidly diversifying Windham (Willimantic) and rural Eastford, and pulled over 40 percent in such disparate places as New London, Cornwall, Wethersfield, Sherman, Hartland, and East Hartford.

This is a map I’ve never seen before.

Usually there are patterns to voting, different coalitions and interest groups have certain kinds of geographies. But this is new. This is people of color in cities and inner-ring suburbs, but it’s also affluent and/or well-educated rural and suburban whites, especially those in progressive enclaves like West Hartford and the towns surrounding the University of Connecticut.

If I had to guess, this is a coalition deeply interested in racial justice and real equality who are appalled by Trump and the ghastly march of white supremacy. This coalition could become the driving force in Democratic politics, and the party’s leaders would be foolish to ignore its potential.

So yes, Zimmerman lost the election. But she may have won something much more valuable in the long run.

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

Susan Bigelow

Susan Bigelow is an award-winning columnist and the founder of CTLocalPolitics. She lives in Enfield with her wife and their cats.