SUSAN BIGELOW

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The race for control of the Connecticut House of Representatives has been very low-profile so far, and the strangeness of this pandemic year isn’t helping candidates get their messages out. There’s a lot less door-knocking and hand-shaking, and little chance things will change before Election Day.

This makes life harder for challengers, who can sometimes counter the advantages of incumbency with a strong ground game of door-knocking and voter-meeting. This also makes state races more susceptible than they already are to national voting patterns.

In short, don’t expect this to be a very good year for Republicans. The usual Democratic headwinds of a presidential election year, coupled with the high marks voters have given Gov. Ned Lamont for his handling of the pandemic, mean Republicans would already be in a tough place. There’s also not a coherent message for voters in favor of Republican control of the House. In the alternate universe where the pandemic never hit or was quickly contained, I imagine we’d be hearing a lot more about tolls. Remember tolls? Remember how mad people were? Republicans have nothing nearly so useful right now, and “bring back high school football” is probably not going to be it.

Still, both Republicans and Democrats have plenty of decent pickup opportunities. Chances are that very few seats will actually change hands, but there are some easy metrics we can use to figure out where those seats that do move might come from.

The first major category I looked at was seats that flipped from one party to another in 2018. First-term incumbents from just-flipped seats are always vulnerable to some degree, and some of them, such as Rep. Jane Garibay, D-Windsor Locks, Rep. Christine Palm, D-Chester, and Rep. Maria Horn, D-Salisbury, are facing the same person they kicked out of office two years ago.

The second major category was close races in 2018, meaning those races that were decided by around 500 votes or less. A good example is Rep. Noreen Kokoruda, R-Madison, who won re-election by only 18 votes in 2018, just barely surviving a challenge from Democrat John-Michael Parker. Parker is back this year for a rematch.

And, unsurprisingly, many of the flipped seats in 2018 were close races as well.

There are two other factors to consider besides a close race or a flipped seat. There are 16 open seats, which can sometimes lead to changes in party control, and there are also several seats held by one party in an area of the state where the other party is strong or growing in influence.

If a race has a combination of these factors, the chances of it being a more competitive race are that much higher.

For example, in the 111th District, where Democrat Aimee Berger-Girvalo faces Republican Bob Herbert, all of the factors are present. This is a seat held by Rep. John Frey, R-Ridgefield, who has represented the district since 1998. Frey faced a close race in 2018 and he is not running again this year. In addition, this is an area that’s trending Democrat. Ridgefield voted for Ned Lamont in 2018, and Hillary Clinton in 2016. The local state senate seat flipped to Democrat in 2018, as well. The 111th is one of the ripest targets for Democrats to pick off.

The 143rd District, which is just next door in Wilton and parts of Norwalk and Westport, is in the same situation. Rep. Gail Lavielle, R-Wilton, is not running for re-election in this district that is trending towards the Democrats. Democrat Stephanie Thomas, who came close to unseating Lavielle in 2018, is running against Republican Patrizia Zucaro.

Other pickup opportunities for Democrats include an open seat in the 35th District, currently represented by Rep. Jesse MacLachlan, R-Westbrook, that was close in 2018. MacLachlan, the sole Republican to vote for the police accountability bill last year, quit the race before the primary. Lastly, the 17th District, represented by Rep. Leslee Hill, R-Canton, was close in 2018 and is part of the Democrat-trending Farmington Valley.

Republicans have a lot fewer pickup opportunities, but the 139th District, which is represented by longtime Rep. Kevin Ryan, D-Montville, was close in 2018, and voted for Trump in 2016, Stefanowski in 2018, and has a Republican state senator, might be their best shot. They could also pick off the seat held by outgoing Speaker Joe Aresimowicz, D-Berlin, which was close in 2018 and is in a Republican-trending area.

I’ve put all of these races and more on the map, so please take a look and let me know which races you think are going to be worth watching!

Next week: the Senate!

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 CTNewsJunkie.com.

Susan Bigelow

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