Ryan Fazio, Denise Merrill
Sen. Ryan Fazio, R-Greenwich is sworn in by Secretary of the State Denise Merrill on Aug. 26, 2021. Credit: Christine Stuart / CTNewsJunkie
Susan Bigelow head shot
SUSAN BIGELOW

A new state senator from the 36th District was sworn in this week: Republican Ryan Fazio of Greenwich. Fazio defeated Democrat Alexis Gevanter to take back this seat for Republicans, who lost it in 2018 for the first time in generations. Should Democrats be worried that this portends some kind of doom for 2022? Short answer: no. Long answer: no, but yes, but probably maybe.

There’s always a huge danger in trying to read the tea leaves of an election that’s over a year out, especially when all we have to go on is a special election in a swing district held during the third week of August in another pandemic year. It’s tempting to just toss this one out and move on.

And in fact, there are plenty of reasons to do just that. The abrupt resignation of Sen. Alex Kasser, D-Greenwich, who had defeated longtime incumbent L. Scott Frantz in 2018 and was reelected by defeating Fazio in 2020, caught Democrats off guard. They had to scramble to find a new candidate while Fazio, who ran strong against Kasser in 2020 despite the headache of sharing a ballot with former president Donald Trump, was someone voters were already familiar with. Fazio had also been a member of Greenwich’s Representative Town Meeting, for what that’s worth, while Gevanter had no previous experience in government.

And it may be nothing, but voters had just watched the fall of Kabul two days before on their televisions and online. Losing a 20-year war is probably not a morale boost for the party in power.

Besides, 2022 is a redistricting year, so why bother worrying about a senate district that will look different a year from now?

Okay, then, Democrats should feel fine about this. They’ll have a great shot at knocking off Fazio and reclaiming this district next year, so let’s all move on.

Whew, that was easy. Another column in the bag! Time to kick back and enjoy my second watchthrough of “Centaurworld.” See you next week!

. . .  And yet, there’s something about this race that is giving me pause.

Let’s take a closer look. 

The 36th was a solid Republican district as recently as five years ago. Sen. Frantz, R-Greenwich, had represented the district since 2008. Between 2008 and 2018, Frantz was a lock for reelection. Frantz was able to win big by breaking even in the slice of the district in Stamford while running up the score in Greenwich and New Canaan, where in 2016 he won by 8,500 and 1,100 votes, respectively.

But 2018 was different. In that election, Kasser did the unthinkable by running very close with Frantz in Greenwich and New Canaan, losing Greenwich by 500 votes and the district’s section of New Canaan by 600 votes. Her big margin of victory in Stamford, where she defeated Frantz by over 2,500 votes, carried her over the finish line and into a seat Democrats hadn’t held since the Great Depression. 

2020 followed the same pattern. Kasser lost Greenwich by only 200 votes and New Canaan by 800 votes, while winning Stamford by 2,500 votes. 

So what happened in 2021? Fazio still lost in Stamford by 700 votes, but won Greenwich by 800 and New Canaan by 400. In a low-turnout election, that margin of victory for him in Greenwich was absolutely crucial. Democratic voters who were drawn to the polls by national issues in 2018 and 2020 likely didn’t show up this time. 

When 2022 rolls around, Donald Trump won’t be in office and voters will be judging Democratic control of Congress, the presidency and state government. This election could foreshadow how that’s going to look.

It’s also possible Fazio’s messaging about crime, which was really the only major difference in issues for him from 2020 to 2021, was hitting home. Republicans are absolutely going to attack Democrats on crime in 2022, and while I find it to be mostly cynical posturing, everybody doesn’t see it that way. 

But the biggest issue for Democrats in regaining this seat is redistricting. Greenwich, Stamford, and New Canaan all grew at a pretty brisk pace over the past decade while much of the rest of the state stagnated. The 36th District is going to get geographically smaller, and how that shapes up will make a huge difference for each party’s chances. Greenwich will remain the anchor of the district, but look for there to be a much smaller slice of Stamford and New Canaan. Democrats should hope New Canaan drops out of the district entirely. Republicans would want to see New Canaan remain while the part of Stamford in the district shrinks. In both cases, Greenwich’s votes are going to matter more, and for Democrats, that’s not good news.

So should a special election in August worry Democrats? Probably not too much. But they shouldn’t write it off, either.

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

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.