Susan Bigelow

A defiant Dita Bhargava, bare-shouldered against a dark background, says she approves this message “for millions of women across America.” A succession of similarly bare-shouldered women, each looking directly at the camera, flashes by. “This is who had freedom over their own bodies stripped away,” Bhargava says. “This is who the Supreme Court left completely vulnerable.” She then pledges to fight for abortion rights as treasurer, and closes with the firm statement: “We need more women in office.”

It’s a short, simple, powerful, and effective ad. It’s the kind of messaging on abortion that Democrats in Congress have been flailing around trying to find, and it’s refreshing in its directness.

Will it actually help Bhargava stand out in her three-way race for the Democratic nomination? And what does abortion have to do with the treasury in any case?

Surprisingly, a lot.

Bhargava addressed that in a statement, saying that the treasurer’s office “has the power to affect corporate behavior by the investments it makes. Or doesn’t make.” And she, as treasurer, wouldn’t be investing the state’s money in companies that didn’t support abortion rights. It’s the ultimate case of putting our money where our mouth is.

Using the power of the treasury to press for social change is nothing new. In the early 1980s, Connecticut was one of the first governments to divest from South Africa in protest of apartheid, for instance, and there are numerous more recent examples, such as divesting from Russia in the wake of the invasion of Ukraine. 

And it’s not just Bhargava who has plans to fight for justice as treasurer. Erick Russell is pledging to divest from gun manufacturers and to advocate for diversity, fair labor practices, and against excessive executive pay. Karen DuBois-Walton hasn’t said much about what she’d do as of yet, but she has a long track record of fighting for social justice. It’s safe to say that no matter who wins this primary, the nominee will be committed to continuing that activist role for the treasury.

That brings us back to the ad.

YouTube video

This ad, titled “Stripped Away,” has two purposes. First and foremost, it’s intended to help Bhargava shake up a sleepy summer primary with an eye-catching ad containing a strong statement of values. Primaries for constitutional offices without a governor or senate race at the top of the ticket don’t tend to draw a lot of voters. But if Democrats see the abortion fight playing out in this primary, they might actually show up to the polls.

Secondly, that last line, “We need more women in office,” gives Democratic voters a good reason to support her over endorsed candidate and presumed front-runner Erick Russell.

The only thing that makes that a little awkward is that there’s another woman in the race. Karen DuBois-Walton, who heads up New Haven’s housing authority and is the chair of the state Board of Education, doesn’t have the headlines that Bhargava does, but does have impressive bona fides. By getting out in front of the pack with an ad like this, Bhargava is trying to position herself as the better leader and the stronger voice.

And it’s not like there aren’t good reasons to support Russell, either. Russell, a lawyer and a gay Black man, is the only LGBTQ person in the running for the state’s constitutional offices. He also clearly has the ability to wrangle a whole bunch of ornery Democratic convention delegates into voting for him, which is no mean feat.

Democratic constitutional officer primaries are strange things. No Democrat has actually lost their race for treasurer, secretary of the state, comptroller, or attorney general in decades, meaning voters are not very concerned with electability. Whoever wins the primary probably has the election in the bag. And there has yet to be any real policy daylight between candidates; most Democratic candidates all across the state are in broad agreement about a wide range of issues. So Democratic voters in this closed primary are not asking themselves, “Who will represent me best?” so much as they’re asking “What do we want our government to look like?” and “What combination of people will best reflect our values?”

Dita Bhargava is hoping there’s a slot for a female candidate who is fiercely committed to abortion rights. And, given the tenor of the times, she may be in luck.

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Susan Bigelow

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 or any of the author's other employers.