This race for control of Connecticut’s General Assembly appears to have come down to brass knuckles as the election draws to a close on Tuesday.
It should come as no surprise simply based on the numbers — Republicans have gained seats in elections over the last eight years despite Democrats outnumbering them almost 2 to 1 in statewide voter registration.
For starters, there are 24 open seats up for grabs in the legislature: In the evenly divided state Senate, there are seven — including three Republican and four Democratic. In the House, there are 17 — seven Republican and 10 Democratic — in a chamber where Democrats hold an 80-71 advantage over Republicans going into Tuesday’s election.
But it isn’t just open seats that are being heavily contested. Ballotpedia has focused its attention in Connecticut on the state’s evenly divided senate where they have highlighted six “battleground” districts.
Democrats hold two of those and Republicans hold four. The two held by Democrats are the 4th and the 29th, which are currently held by Sens. Steve Cassano of Manchester, and Mae Flexer of Killingly, respectively. The Republicans hold districts 13, 17, 24, and 26, which are held by Sens. Len Suzio, George Logan, Michael McLachlan, and Toni Boucher, respectively.
Ballotpedia defines battleground districts as those that will be the most competitive based on their electoral histories, such as whether an incumbent won by less than 55 percent of the vote, or if the presidential candidate in the opposite party won in 2016 by more than 20 percent.
The Democratic Party in Connecticut needs to maintain its majorities in both chambers and retain control of the governorship in order to preserve its current trifecta. There has not been a Republican trifecta in Connecticut since 1974, although the governor’s office was held by Republicans from 1995 through 2010.
When it comes to Connecticut, outside groups have targeted many of these races as well as others that are not necessarily defined as battleground districts.
Outside spending on some of these state Senate races has topped $100,000, which is more than the $95,710 grant that clean election candidates receive from the state’s Citizen’s Election Program. The outside money has been focused on a handful of races, but hardly any in the House.
Change Connecticut, which received most of its money from the Republican State Leadership Committee, has spent $1.135 million on the election so far and, according to its filings, had $492,000 cash on hand heading into the election.
That PAC, which is chaired by William Phillips of Milford, focused on the following Senate contests:
• Sen. Steve Cassano (D) and Rep. Mark Tweedie (R), 4th Senate;
• Rep. Matt Lesser (D) and Ed Charamut (R), 9th Senate;
• James Maroney (D) and Rep. Pam Staneski (R), open 14th Senate;
• Norm Needleman (D) and Rep. Melissa Ziobron (R), open 33rd Senate, and;
• Adam Greenberg (R) and Christine Cohen (D), open 12th Senate.
The PAC has also focused on opposing the House re-election campaigns of Speaker Joe Aresimowicz and Reps. Pat Boyd, Michelle Cook, Catherine Abercrombie, James Albis, Liz Linehan, and Kim Rose.
The mailings and advertisements in many of these races never tell the entire story. One drew fire over its use of anti-Semitic imagery and another used a candidate’s wedding photo in an effort to belittle him.
In the 12th state Senate district, where Greenberg and Cohen are vying for the open seat currently held by retiring state Sen. Ted Kennedy, Jr., the mailers suggest that guns and tolls have become a focal point of the campaign in the closing days.
On guns, Greenberg’s endorsement from the Connecticut Citizens Defense League has been front and center.
During a debate between Cohen and Greenberg a few weeks ago in Madison, Cohen said: “My opponent has been endorsed by the CCDL, which is Connecticut’s version of the NRA.”
“They (the CCDL) want to repeal gun laws, want to repeal the bump stock ban,” Cohen said. “This is a major difference between my opponent. He has sought and received the endorsement of this organization.”
Greenberg didn’t take issue with Cohen’s statements at the debate, but afterward he issued statements saying he never sought the endorsement and that Cohen mischaracterized his position.
Greenberg’s position on guns?
“Our gun laws are very strict and they should be,” he said. “But we must also do more in the area of mental health and treatment to prevent some of the tragic losses of life in recent history.”
In the last few days 12th District residents have also been hit with mailers from the Senate Republican Majority Committee, hammering Cohen’s stance in favor of tolls. The leadership committee is headed by Senate Republican President Len Fasano.
Fasano’s leadership committee is also behind a mailer sent to residents in a few Senate districts, including the race in Milford between James Maroney, a former one-term Democratic lawmaker, and Rep. Pam Staneski. Both are vying for the seat currently held by retiring state Sen. Gayle Slossberg.
This particular mailer tells voters who didn’t vote in the last election that they may be removed from the voting rolls if they don’t show up and vote on Tuesday. It was designed by Mike Cronin, the attorney for the Senate Republican caucus.
“This is a very important election and the purpose of this mailer is to get people to vote on Tuesday,” Fasano said in defense of sending the mailing. “It does not ask anyone to vote for a particular party. Its aim is to get people to not be apathetic.”
But the mailing, which includes a scratch-off portion, asks voters to bring the mail piece to their polling place. That could cause confusion because it will mean nothing to local election officials, a spokesman for the Secretary of the State’s office said.
“There is no requirement to bring any mailer sent by a candidate or a political party to the polling place on Election Day,” Gabe Rosenberg, communications director for the Secretary of the State, said. “A mailer that purports to be an official document but is not can potentially cause confusion in the polling place.”
The bottom line is that voters are not removed from the rolls if they fail to vote in the previous election in Connecticut. Even being moved to “inactive” status doesn’t mean a voter is removed from the rolls. It’s the responsibility of the local registrar to remove deceased individuals from the rolls.
Republicans aren’t the only ones trying to influence the outcome of the election.
Democrats and their union allies are also spending money.
A union-backed organization, Connecticut Values, has raised about $420,000 and has spent it on Cohen’s race in the 12th, Mary Abrams’ challenge of Sen. Len Suzio in the 13th, Maroney’s race in the 14th, Jorge Cabrera’s race against Logan in the 17th, Julie Kushner’s challenge of Sen. Michael McLachlan in the 24th, Will Haskell’s challenge of Sen. Toni Boucher in the 26th, Martha Marx’s challenge of Sen. Paul Formica in the 20th, and Michelle Lapine McCabe’s challenge against Sen. Tony Hwang in the 28th.
The Service Employees International Union PAC has raised $928,482 and has spent most of it canvassing for Democratic Senate candidates and Democratic gubernatorial nominee Ned Lamont.