Voters in a competitive Fairfield County district will elect a new state senator next month to fill a vacancy created by Sen. Alex Kasser’s unexpected resignation in June. But with notoriously low voter turnout in the summer and a potential three-way race, the outcome is anyone’s guess.
Kasser, a Greenwich Democrat, cited stress from an ongoing divorce when she quit the post last month. Although she was partway through her second term representing all of Greenwich and parts of New Canaan and Stamford, the district is by no means an assured victory for Democrats, who have held a 24 to 12 majority in the Senate this year.
In 2018, Kasser narrowly won the seat from Scott Frantz, a Republican who held the post for a decade. Her upset win and her stronger victory last year are part of an emerging picture showing that Fairfield County – once a reliable Republican stronghold – is shifting Democratic.
But special elections can be unpredictable and the short race for the 36th District seat is shaping up to be complicated.
On Aug. 17, voters will choose between the endorsed Democratic candidate, Alexis Gevanter, Republican candidate Ryan Fazio, who ran for the seat last year, and John Blankley, a Democrat who ran in 2016 and said Wednesday he has enough petition signatures to appear on the ballot.
The compressed nature of a special election leaves little time for the candidates to leave an impression on voters.
Fazio, a current member of the Greenwich Representative Town meeting – the community’s legislative body – hopes to build on the work done during last year’s campaign and capitalize on name recognition.
“Over 27,000 have voted for me before and I was honored to gain their trust. They know that I haven’t gone anywhere,” Fazio said. “I spent a lot of effort on the campaign trail listening to and meeting voters. I knocked on 4,000 doors last year.”
Fazio joined conservative activists this week in Hartford to rally against Democratic Gov. Ned Lamont’s ongoing emergency authority. In a phone interview Wednesday, he said his legislative priorities would include lowering the cost of living for Connecticut families and reforming the state’s education systems, in part by reducing mandates on local school administrators.
Gevanter, a former business attorney turned gun violence prevention advocate, said the grassroots organizing she employs as the state lead of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America already has helped build energy and momentum behind her run.
“Our campaign is right for this time and that’s going to help us, even in August,” Gevanter said. “There is a lot of excitement and energy around this campaign. People want to volunteer and help get out the vote, whether by absentee or in person. We have been flooded with requests and we’re excited about that. In a special election, that grassroots energy is going to take us over the finish line.”
Gevanter said her legislative priorities included gun violence prevention and protecting voting rights. She said she would champion businesses and fight to lower taxes.
“I am running because I believe we do not need to choose between economic prosperity and our values,” Gevanter said. “We can have both.”
Blankley previously ran for the seat against Frantz in 2016. In 2018, he also unsuccessfully sought the Democratic nomination for state treasurer. Chairman of a computer consulting and systems integration company, Blankley said he hoped to bring his experience managing large corporate budgets to the state legislature.
“I bring a lifetime of business expertise and skills and financial acumen,” Blankley said. “I understand the state’s finances. I’m a business owner who created dozens of jobs in the state and I know about running businesses. I think there’s a range of skills there which are not really represented in the legislature.”
Blankley had sought the Democratic nomination but opted to run as an unaffiliated candidate when the party chose Gevanter. On Wednesday he said he has submitted adequate signatures to the Secretary of the State’s Office to appear on the ballot.
The Greenwich Time reported Monday that Blankley said he was called by prominent Democrats including Lamont and U.S. Rep. Jim Himes regarding his ongoing status in the race. Both Lamont and Himes are Greenwich residents. On Wednesday Blankley declined to elaborate on the calls.
“I don’t know that I’m prepared to comment further on all of that at this stage,” he said.