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Somehow, despite the fact that there were over 200,000 more votes cast in the 2018 race for governor as there were in 2014, the geography of Ned Lamont’s narrow win was very much the same as Dan Malloy’s second victory over Tom Foley.
Lamont won because of the cities, as did Malloy. Democrats absolutely rely on running up huge margins in the state’s largest cities, and Lamont absolutely did that. Lamont also found plenty of votes in traditional Democratic strongholds in the suburbs, like West Hartford, Bloomfield, Hamden, and West Haven, as did Malloy. Mansfield, home of the University of Connecticut’s main campus, and the liberal towns of the northwest corner of the state came home for Lamont, just as they did for his predecessor.
Stefanowski’s support came from the western interior part of the state, where a belt of Republican towns stretches from Easton and Shelton to Hartland and Granby, some of the more conservative wealthy shoreline towns such as Guilford and Darien, and from rural towns east of the Connecticut River. Tom Foley found his voters there as well.
But there are differences, and that’s where the story of our changing political world comes in.
Greenwich is supposed to be a Republican stronghold, and in fact it has been for generations. Tom Foley won it twice, and not just because he lives there. But in 2016 Greenwich voted for Hillary Clinton, and this year it’s vote in favor of Stefanowski was much closer than for Foley in 2014: 52-47 percent instead of 60-39 percent. Yes, Lamont also lives there, but Greenwich also elected a Democrat to one of its seats in the state House of Representatives, and sent a Democrat to the state Senate for the first time since 1930.
Greenwich is changing. Or, rather, it’s less that the people of Greenwich are changing than it is the political ground is shifting under their feet. The moderate pro-business Republicans are largely gone, replaced by nationalists and Trump conservatives, and so Greenwich is following wealthy suburbs around the country into the Democratic fold.
This is happening all over Fairfield County. Democrats picked up three legislative seats in what used to be a solidly Republican county, and towns like Ridgefield and Redding, which once went for Tom Foley, voted for Ned Lamont. Other suburbs like it elsewhere in the state are following suit. In the Hartford area, Glastonbury and Simsbury went for Lamont, although Glastonbury did so by only three votes.
But there’s a counter-movement toward the Republicans on the other side of the state. Smaller towns in eastern Connecticut supported Foley in 2014, but in 2018 Stefanowski ran up huge margins against Lamont there. In fact, many Foley towns east of the river as well as in the Waterbury area and the north-central part of the state delivered bigger margins for Stefanowski.
If not for huge turnout in the cities, that coalition of deep red, rural, small towns, the GOP heartland of the western interior, and more conservative suburbs like Ellington and Enfield, might have managed to elect a governor.
However, it didn’t. This is the third time that I’ve made an iteration of this particular map, and while things have changed in some areas between 2010 and now, the overall strategy Democrats follow of running up the score in big cities and loyal suburbs while keeping reasonably close elsewhere has worked. Republicans desperately need a new game plan for 2022.
Susan Bigelow is an award-winning columnist and the founder of CTLocalPolitics. She lives in Enfield with her wife and their cats.
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