The Republican and Democratic parties are each one seat away from taking the majority in the Connecticut Senate, but there are seven open seats — three Republican and four Democratic — in a year in which it’s hard to make predictions.
“It’s an odd election year. There’s things you can’t control out there,” Senate Republican President Len Fasano, R-North Haven, said.
Both parties need to gain one seat to take control of the chamber. At the moment, Democrats have a small advantage because Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman, a Democrat, presides over the chamber and can cast a tie-breaking vote.
However, Fasano said he thinks Republicans are in a good spot because he says they have the right message about how the state has been going in the wrong direction.
He said people are very concerned over the deficit and tax increases over the past eight years under Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and a Democrat-controlled majority in the House.
The last time Republicans controlled the Senate in Connecticut was from 1994 to 1996, but historical trends seem to favor the GOP.
In the Senate, the Democrats have seen their majority slip from 24-12 after the 2008 election to an 18-18 tie. House Democrats, meanwhile, held a 114-37 margin after the 2008 election, and have seen it dwindle to 80-71.
In the last several elections, Republicans have made gains in both chambers, including drawing even in the state Senate in 2016.
Senate President Martin Looney, D-New Haven, said they have a group of strong candidates in places where Republican seats have opened up.
Looney cited the race for the 33rd Senate District seat being vacated by Art Linares.
Essex First Selectman Norm Needleman, who runs an effervescent products business, is running for the seat a second time. This year he faces Republican Rep. Melissa Ziobron of East Haddam, who decided to run for the seat when Linares ran for state treasurer.
The race has been described as one of a handful that could tip the balance of the Senate.
Needleman, who is serving his fourth term as first selectman, has purchased about $86,000 in television ads to run Oct. 3 through Election Day in three cable zones that overlap the district.
As a publicly financed candidate, Ziobron said she’s going to focus on a more grassroots campaign that involves dozens of volunteers knocking on doors across the district. Sean Patterson, one of her volunteers, said last week that taxes, tolls, and the security of the state employees and teacher pension funds were topics on voters’ minds.
Fasano said each race is about the candidate and their relationship with the community.
Before Linares won the seat in 2012 it belonged to the late Sen. Eileen Daily of Westbrook, a Democrat who held the seat for more than 20 years. That gives Looney hope they can take the seat.
Looney said the Democratic Party is fighting for every seat they can.
“This is obviously a one-vote shift in either direction,” he said.
Declining to comment specifically on whether President Donald Trump will motivate more Democratic voters to get out to vote on Nov. 6, Fasano said he’s told his candidates “to campaign hard and have no regrets when you put your head on the pillow the night before the election.”
Will Republican gubernatorial candidate Bob Stefanowski, at the top of the ticket, help?
“People ask me all the time can you get rid of the income tax?,” Fasano said. “I tell them I’d rather vote for a governor whose aspiration is to lower the income tax than one who is uncertain about whether he will raise it or implement tolls.”
Ultimately, this election, Fasano said “is about Connecticut. I think most people get that.”
Looney said he thinks Connecticut voters are smart and “people know the stakes in this election. They know what it means if we were not to have majority.”
Looney said he thinks the way the ballot is configured will help Democratic candidates.
The top of the ticket will be the candidates for governor, then U.S. Senate, then Congress, and then state Senate followed by the state House. The constitutional offices and local races for registrar of voters or probate judge are after that.
“I think people understand what Republican control would mean,” Looney said. “It would mean an anti-choice, anti-worker agenda — some of which we saw in 2017 with a large number of right-to-work bills.”
Other races Looney said they are working closely on include the seat vacated by Sen. Gayle Slossberg. Former one-term state Rep. James Maroney is competing against Rep. Pam Staneski of Milford.
The Democratic Party also has high hopes for Christine Hunter Cohen of Guilford, a bagel shop owner, who is running for Sen. Ted Kennedy Jr.’s vacated seat against Adam Greenberg, a former Major League Baseball player who was hit in the head in his first appearance at the plate while playing for the Chicago Cubs.
Then there’s former state Rep. Vickie Nardello, who is running for the seat being vacated by Sen. Joe Markley. Markley is on the Stefanowski ticket as his lieutenant governor candidate.
Nardello, who was known for her understanding of energy policy, will face Rep. Rob Sampson of Wolcott, a very conservative member of the state House.
According to Ballotpedia, both parties have opportunities to pick up seats. In 2016, there were four seats with a margin of victory of less than 5 percent. Three were won by Republicans and one by a Democrat. There are nine Republican-controlled seats in districts that were won by Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential election.
Both parties and outside groups will be using whatever resources they have to target races for seats they believe they can pick up, including some where the margin of victory was small or a senator is still in their first term.
Change Connecticut, an outside independent expenditure group funded with $400,000 from the Republican State Leadership Committee, will be opposing Democratic state Sen. Steve Cassano, and Democratic candidates including Needleman, Maroney, and Rep. Matt Lesser, who is vying for Sen. Paul Doyle’s open seat. Doyle ran and lost a Democratic primary for attorney general. Lesser is running against Republican Edward Charamut, and Cassano faces a challenge from Rep. Mark Tweedie.
On the Democratic side, the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee recently gave $45,000 Connecticut Values, a new independent expenditure group. The money will be used on legislative races, but the group yet to identify the candidates it will support or oppose.
Service Employees International Union has raised $295,000 to support Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ned Lamont, and at least four state Senate candidates. It’s supporting Mary Abrams, who is running against Sen. Len Suzio of Meriden, who reclaimed the seat in 2016; Julie Kushner, who is running against Sen. Michael McLachlan in Danbury; Jorge Cabrera, who is running against Sen. George Logan in Ansonia, and Nardello.
AFSCME also spent about $15,000 to canvas for Cassano, Lesser, Abrams, Cabrera, Kushner, and Sen. Mae Flexer.