I am not the biggest believer that one year’s elections can offer insight for the next election. Elections are snapshots of specific times, candidates and causes. But many pundits and political scientists counter that elections could suggest where voters, candidates, and political parties will lead into the future. Considering this month’s election results, I am more fascinated by what New Jersey’s results may portend for Connecticut’s political landscape.
Certainly, Connecticut’s local races were revealing since there were so many contested elections, even within the two major political parties. September’s primary elections were intriguing since multiple candidates ran against mayoral incumbents. Stamford’s race received notable attention and national interest. Mayoral elections in Hamden as well as West Haven were also competitive.
So many mayoral and first selectmen races went to Republican candidates. This shouldn’t be surprising because prior to former President Donald Trump’s tenure, there were over 100 Connecticut municipalities with Republican executive leaders. Several Republican leaders reminded me of this fact, and with President Joe Biden in office, Republicans picked up nearly 20 mayoral offices and are back to 102 out of 169 executive officials following this month’s elections.
Connecticut may be a “blue” state but locally we tend to favor Republican executives particularly in suburban and rural towns. When candidates discuss local issues over national politics and voters know their local officials, party labels become secondary. It’s also no secret that Republican and Republican-leaning unaffiliated voters turn out more in local and state races. Registered Democrats rarely turnout in significant droves, especially in “safe seat” and majority Democrat municipalities.
So Connecticut’s local elections weren’t that shocking. Instead, the Garden State’s elections had some dizzying and divisive results. As a former Jersey resident and observer, I was shocked to read New Jersey’s longest-serving Senate President, Steve Sweeney, lost to Republican truck driver Edward Durr. In fact, Durr only spent $2,300 but garnered significant media attention for defeating the South Jersey Democratic Party leader. Sweeney is such a political force that he regularly blocks or blesses legislative and gubernatorial proposals. For a party boss to lose to a political novice is rare. But New Jersey’s Republicans and Republican-leaning unaffiliated voters turned out.
Similarly, New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy narrowly won re-election because so many Republicans and Republican-leaning unaffiliated voters came out to support Republican candidate Jack Ciattarelli. It was also surprising how many northern Jersey municipalities swung against Murphy, compared to Biden capturing 57.7% of the Bergen County vote in last year’s presidential election. Several polls, including Monmouth University Polling Institute, indicated the governor had an eight-point advantage a week before the election. Its legendary director, Patrick Murray, admitted that he “blew it” since turnout was higher than expected.
Meanwhile, Connecticut’s Democrats sensed New Jersey voters’ angst and made some recent decisions. The House Majority Leader’s chief of staff will controversially serve part-time and become the state Democratic Party’s executive director. Gov. Ned Lamont and Lt. Gov. Susan Bysiewicz also suddenly announced that they filed for re-election.
It could be any day now that Republicans announce their candidacies. Lamont may remain over 50% support in recent polls, but will we see a turnout against his incumbency like Murphy’s? Likely, but Murphy is more unpopular than Lamont. Lamont won 2018’s gubernatorial election with 49%. That same election also had over 20 Republican candidates and several lieutenant governor candidates before the state party’s convention. And the party remained fractured after the 2018 primary election since petitioning candidate Bob Stefanowski received only 27% of his party’s support, yet became the nominee from the crowded field.
Aside from Stefanowski’s decision whether to run again, former House Minority Leader Themis Klarides is another likely Republican contender for governor, and Susan Patricelli Regan, a Granby resident and former senior international marketing executive, was the first Republican to file paperwork with the SEEC to run for governor. Longtime Shelton Mayor Mark Lauretti may also run again and there are likely to be more candidates. New Jersey experienced significant Republican turnout against its governor and it nearly worked. Both major political parties in Connecticut can – and should – learn from this. It’s an eternity in political time between now and our gubernatorial election but the side that learns the most could be the victor.
Jonathan L. Wharton, Ph.D. is the associate dean of the School of Graduate and Professional Studies and teaches political science at Southern Connecticut State University in New Haven.
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.
Editor’s note: An earlier version of this article misstated the margin of vote for Lamont in 2018.