Stephanie Thomas Credit: Thomas Breen photo / New Haven Independent

Norwalk State Rep. Stephanie Thomas emerged from a crowded five-candidate field and three ballots’ worth of delegate votes to win the state Democratic Party’s endorsement for secretary of the state.

That was the outcome of the most hotly contested nomination vote Saturday during day two of the 2022 Connecticut Democratic Party convention, which was held at the Xfinity Theatre in Hartford.

Thomas, who represents Norwalk in the state House of Representatives, beat Middletown State Sen. Matt Lesser in a third-round runoff to win the state party’s endorsement and nomination. 

In addition to Thomas and Lesser, city Health Director Maritza Bond and Meriden State Rep. Hilda Santiago also earned more than 15 percent of delegate votes in the first and second rounds of delegate votes — meaning that all four will be on the Democratic primary ballot in August.

The only secretary of the state candidate at the convention who did not earn enough delegate votes to secure a spot on August’s primary ballot was Hamden State Rep. Josh Elliott.

Thomas’s victory — coming at the end of a nearly nine-hour convention day on Saturday — came as a surprise to the candidate herself.

“I didn’t write a speech,” she said with joy and disbelief as she accepted the party’s nomination from the convention stage just before 6 p.m. ​“I never believed… I just worked hard.”

She said her campaign represented two poles of politics that Democrats must embrace: both policy and feeling. ​“We need really strong policy,” she said, ​“and we need really authentic engagement with voters.”

Sen. Matt Lesser

Her victory also came at end of hours of negotiations on the floor among her supporters and supporters of Santiago and Lesser, as the latter two jockeyed to get in second place in the second ballot, in a bid to make their way to a final runoff against Thomas. Ultimately, Lesser was able to squeak by Santiago by 10 votes in the second round, propelling him to the runoff, where he was trounced by Thomas.

Besides overseeing elections, the secretary of the state is in charge of business filings and maintaining the commercial registry. The secretary of the state also proposes and lobbies for new election laws while promoting voting and participation in elections — serving as the state’s top​“civics” official.

On the Republican side, Dominic Rapini, Terrie Wood, and Brock Weber are seeking the office. Cynthia Jennings is seeking the Independent Party nomination.

Rep. Hilda Santiago Credit: Thomas Breen photo / New Haven Independent

As was the case before the ballot for state treasurer earlier in the afternoon, the five secretary of the state candidates got a chance between being nominated and the start of voting to address the convention as a whole and make a last-minute pitch for delegates’ support.

“I am so humbled and honored to be here and to be considered by all of you to be the first Latina on a state ticket for a constitutional office,” Bond said.

She said that her experience running New Haven’s health department during the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic has prepared her well for the secretary of the state’s office. ​“I know firsthand what it takes to manage, lead and inspire those I work with,” she said. ​“Access to healthcare and access to voting are so alike, and both are so critical to our democracy.”

Bond concluded her pitch by referring to her New Haven roots. ​“This woman from Fair Haven is ready to be the next secretary of the state,” she said. ​“Let’s put together the strongest and most representative ticket, one that will be best positioned to win all state offices this coming fall.”

During her time at the mic, Thomas said that she would run the secretary of the state’s office like she’s run her campaign: fairly, and with a focus on policy and not personality.

Lesser spoke about his experience in the state legislature, authoring toe expand voting rights and provide ​“prenatal care for every mom.” He also spoke about how his own mother grew up ​“in dictatorship in Latin America,” and how his grandmother survived the Holocaust.

Rep. Josh Elliott

“I want my young son to grow up in a country where every vote counts in every town in every election in every year,” he said. ​“Our right to vote is the cornerstone of all our other rights.”

He added that he’s the only candidate with the backing of organized labor. And, he said, ​“I am the candidate who the Republicans fear the most.”

Santiago opened her pre-vote delegate pitch by saying, ​“We must support a woman. We must.”

But, she continued, delegates should support her primarily because of her experience.

“As a survivor of domestic violence, I know what it is to start over. I have experienced that,” she said. ​“Like many of you, I have had to work three jobs to make ends meet. I have experienced that. Like many of you, I put myself through college to get a degree. I have experienced that. Like many of you, I have been a proud union member. I had that experience.”

She also spoke about how she has served on a city council and in the state House of Representatives, she has worked as the head of constituent services for U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy, managed a Head Start program, and managed a homeless shelter.
​“When you vote today, consider my experience,” she said. ​“That’s why I’m asking for your vote.”

Elliott, the last secretary of the state candidate to address the attendees before the delegate vote, said he is running for the office primarily to popularize the ideas that motivate his campaign.

Those include allowing for early voting from between two weeks to a month before an election; establishing an opt-out voting system whereby voters are registered and get a ballot every election by default, as opposed to the current opt-in model that requires one to register first; supporting ranked-choice voting; and boosting voting rights for people who are incarcerated.

“It’s about popularizing these ideas so that people can run on them and be successful,” Elliott said.

He repeated that idea-focused sentiment before dropping out of the race during the second ballot as he was polling at around 3 percent of the vote.

“No matter what,” he concluded, ​“we’re going to have a great candidate.”