Last week: House of Representatives preview
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As the 2020 election bears down on us like a speeding 18-wheeler, it’s easy to forget that there are races happening down ballot that will help determine the future of the Connecticut General Assembly.
This week I’ll be looking at state senate races of interest. The big question: do Republicans have a shot at taking over the chamber, as they almost did in 2016? Well, technically, yes. They do. But is it likely? Oh, definitely not.
Then again, the electorate is going to be so scrambled from the pandemic and absentee ballot troubles that anything seems possible.
Here are the races I’m keeping an eye on this year. Democrats have two strong pickup opportunities.
In the 6th District, first-term incumbent Sen. Gennaro Bizzarro, R-New Britain, is facing Rep. Rick Lopes, D-New Britain, in a rematch of their 2019 special election matchup. This seat is the most likely to switch parties of any senate race this year. The 6th currently contains the entire city of New Britain, the town of Berlin, and a piece of Farmington. Up until 2019, this was former Sen. Terry Gerrantana’s district, and before that the district was held by Sen. Donald DeFronzo—both Democrats. Gerrantana left office to join the Lamont administration in 2019.
Bizzarro managed to eke out a win in the special election called to replace Gerrantana thanks to the uproar over tolls, which Gov. Ned Lamont had just announced as a priority at his budget speech only a few days before the election. But tolls are a forgotten issue during this pandemic year, and Democratic turnout in the cities is likely to be much stronger thanks to the presidential election.
Another major pickup opportunity for Democrats is in the 17th District, where incumbent Sen. George Logan, R-Ansonia is facing labor leader Jorge Cabrera in a rematch of their very close 2018 race. Logan won that race by only 77 votes. Back in 2016, Logan won the seat by defeating incumbent Sen. Joe Crisco, D-Woodbridge by less than 1,000 votes. The district includes the entire towns of Derby, Ansonia, Bethany, and Beacon Falls, and parts of Hamden, Woodbridge, and Naugatuck.
Republicans have a lot more pickup opportunities. Sen. Mary Daugherty Abrams, D-Meriden, is facing former Sen. Len Suzio, R-Meriden, whom she defeated in 2018, in the 13th District. This district has swung back and forth constantly over the past decade: Suzio was in office from 2011-12, and again from 2016-18. These are always incredibly close races, and it’s possible that Suzio will pull off another win.
In District 12, incumbent Sen. Christine Cohen, D-Guilford, is facing Republican Joe LaPorta of Madison. Cohen narrowly defeated Republican Adam Greenberg in 2018. The nearby District 33 flipped to the Democrats in 2018 when Norm Needleman defeated Sen. Melissa Ziobron, R-East Hampton, in a very close race. Sen. Needleman is facing Republican Brendan Saunders this year.
Sen. Cathy Osten, D-Sprague, is facing Hebron Republican Steve Weir in the 19th District. Osten won her 2018 race fairly comfortably, but lost her re-election bid to stay Sprague’s First Selectwoman the next year. Parts of the area are trending Republican, meaning they’ve supported Republican candidates for other offices, including president, state representative, and governor, so this may be Osten’s most challenging race.
Republicans also have an opportunity in District 29, represented by Sen. Mae Flexer, D-Killingly. This district includes Mansfield and Windham, two college towns which often vote heavily Democratic. The pandemic, and the uncertainty of being able to hold in-person classes on campus, might put those votes in jeopardy.
Other possibilities for Republicans: District 14, held by Sen. James Maroney, was very close in 2018. Districts 24, 26, and 36, held by Sens. Julie Kushner, Will Haskell and Alex Kasser, respectively, all flipped to the Democrats in 2018. Kasser’s victory was especially close. These are a lot less likely to flip back, however, as the area is trending towards the Democrats.
My guess is that Republicans will pick up two or three of these, while Democrats will gain both their likely targets. The result will either be a one-seat gain for Republicans, or a wash. But the strangeness of this election year means that anything could happen, so keep a close eye out for surprises.
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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