NEW HAVEN, CT — While Republicans were in Southbury Saturday, Connecticut Democrats descended on Sherman Avenue to remind local politicos that the fate of November’s general election — and whether or not the state turns red — may rest on whether they can turn out the New Haven vote.
On Saturday afternoon around 20 local, state, and national Connecticut Democratic politicians joined a few dozen supporters to send that message and celebrate the opening of the New Haven Democratic headquarters at 180 Sherman Ave.
Rallying just 24 days before Nov. 6’s general election, most of the party’s slate of statewide candidates visited the Elm City to make a pitch for why 2018 represents a critical year for American democracy. Control of the state legislature and the governor’s office is up for grabs this year, as are the other top statewide offices.
The candidates also noted at every turn that high voter turnout in New Haven, where over 37,000 voters are registered as Democrats, will be critical if the party wants to retain control of the governorship and the state legislature. Democrats currently hold an 80 to 71 seat majority over Republicans in the state House of Representatives, and are tied 18 to 18 with Republicans in the state Senate.
For at least a decade, Democrats who win statewide races for offices like governor or senator have done so when the party’s largest concentration of voters — here in New Haven — produced the largest statewide margin of victory. (U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy famously declared that when he saw the lines out the door of Newhallville’s Lincoln-Bassett School in 2012, he knew he’d won the election.)
“For every single election,” Mayor Toni Harp said at Saturday’s rally, “New Haven makes a difference for Democratic voters. We recognize that New Haven has got to do its job so that our state is Democratic. We want the rest of the United States to know that we are tired of the nonsense that is going on in Washington.”
In the past two gubernatorial elections, the Elm City played a crucial role in delivering wins to outgoing Democratic governor Dannel Malloy.
State Sen. Martin Looney, standing beside a half-dozen local candidates for state House and Senate, reminded listeners that in 2010 Malloy trailed Republican candidate Tom Foley by 12,000 votes after votes had been tallied in 168 of Connecticut’s towns and cities. But after New Haven’s votes were counted, he said, Malloy emerged on top by a 6,000-vote margin.
“When the totals of New Haven had been added,” said, “he won by 18,000” votes in New Haven.
Malloy defeated Foley in the Elm City by almost the exact same margin in 2014, earning 23,183 New Haven votes while his Republican opponent won just 3,291.
“We need from you the kind of work that we saw in 2010,” Looney said. “We’re counting on you this year to help.”
Each Democratic candidate for state constitutional office issued a similar plea for New Haven Dems to get out the vote over the next three weeks.
“I got the memo a long time ago that if you want to get elected statewide, you’ve got to come through New Haven,” said Shawn Wooden, the former Hartford City Council president who is the party’s nominee for state treasurer.
“New Haven, you make the difference,” said Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ned Lamont. “We can’t do it without you.”
At stake in this election, each Democrat who took the mic said, is not just whether Connecticut stays blue or red. At stake is the fate of American democracy itself.
“Democracy is on the ballot this year,” said Sen. Murphy, who is running for reelection this November. “Don’t take for granted the experiments we have been engaged with over the past 240 years.”
He said that the Trump administration and Congressional Republicans represent a threat not just to affordable and quality healthcare access, women’s reproductive rights, and treating undocumented immigrants like human beings. He said that they also present a threat to the very rule of law itself.
Democrats have been seeking to focus the campaign conversation on Trump, who is unpopular in Connecticut; Republicans have sought to focus the conversation on departing Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, who ranks even lower in state polls.
Stamford State Rep. William Tong, who is the Democratic nominee for attorney general, echoed Murphy’s remarks.
“If you’re a woman,” he said, “if you’re an immigrant, if you’re a Connecticut taxpayer, if you live in the city of New Haven, the president of the United States has declared war on you and your family. The question now in the next 24 days is: what are you gonna do about it?”
“We’re fighting for the soul of our country,” said U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro, who is also up for reelection. “And it’s fragile. Democracy is fragile. We have to nurture it. We have to bring it along.”
New York U.S. Rep. Nydia Velázquez, who represents portions of Queens, Brooklyn, and Manhattan and who in 1993 became the first Puerto Rican woman to be elected to Congress, ended the party rally by calling on Connecticut Democrats to focus on turning out New Haven’s black and Hispanic Democratic voters.
“The difference in terms of who is going to win this election here depends on our Democratic base,” she said. “We have to make sure that everyone comes out to vote, but particularly Latinos and African Americans.”
She said that when she worked for the governor of Puerto Rico in 1985, she organized a nationwide voter registration drive that ultimately registered over 250,000 Puerto Ricans. She said that that voter registration drive helped propel the election of David Dinkins, New York City’s first African American mayor, in 1990.
“We have to organize and put forward a grassroots mobilization,” she said. “That requires face-to-face contact, door to door.”