Connecticut’s political world was rocked last week by an Emerson/WTNH poll showing former state senator George Logan, a Republican, leading Democrat Rep. Jahana Hayes by a single point, 48%-47%, in the 5th congressional district. If this poll is accurate then something fundamental has shifted in the 5th, which has been a stable, safe seat for Democrats since Andrew Roraback came within about 8,000 votes of defeating Elizabeth Esty in 2012.
But really, this has been fundamentally, structurally, a Democratic seat since Chris Murphy defeated Nancy Johnson in 2006.
The way elections in the fifth have worked since 2006 is like this: the cities of Meriden, New Britain, Danbury, and Waterbury act as a firewall for Democrats, especially if margins are held down elsewhere in the district. Democrats can usually carry towns in the northwest corner of the state, as well as most or all of the Farmington Valley towns of Simsbury, Canton, Avon, and Farmington. In a good year, towns like Litchfield, Newtown, New Milford, Sherman, and Bethel are very winnable for Democrats.
This is clearly not a good year, if the poll is accurate. And that’s a very big if, indeed.
Let’s take a moment to run through all the caveats about this poll, because there are many. How true is it? Unfortunately, there is absolutely no way to tell, because no other polls have been done!
Single polls matter a lot less than overall poll averages, because any one given poll can be an outlier. If this poll is an outlier, we’d have no way of knowing without someone else doing another poll. Now that there’s a lot of interest in this race pollsters may have been convinced to conduct a few, so hopefully we’ll get a better picture of where things stand.
The other problem with this poll, though, is that the polling industry in general has been struggling to accurately predict races since 2016’s debacle, and nobody really knows what the electorate is going to look like come November 8th. Who will show up? Will we see a red wave, powered by inflation and economic worries? Will there be a massive backlash to the Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade? Will the January 6th insurrection and the hovering specter of Donald Trump matter? If anyone says they know what combination of these factors will be a factor next week, don’t believe them. We’ll only know what voters really cared about after the fact.
But let’s assume, for a moment, that this poll is reasonably accurate, and that the 5th district election is going to be a nail-biter that could easily swing Logan’s way. What would that look like?
First, let’s assume Hayes will win the cities by very comfortable margins, as Democrats have done since 2006. Where does Logan find the votes to counterbalance big numbers for Hayes in Danbury, New Britain, Meriden, and Waterbury?
The first key for Logan is to hold down the margins in the cities as much as possible. If Hayes wins the cities with the numbers she did in 2018 and 2020, it’s over. There is no way to counterbalance those votes. Hayes won the four cities by about 21,000 votes in 2018, or roughly 7% of all votes cast. In 2020, Hayes won the cities by about 31,000 votes, or 8.8% of all votes cast in that much higher turnout year.
So let’s say Logan keeps those margins down, either by getting voters to vote for him, or to dampen their enthusiasm for Hayes so much that they stay home. Let’s say Hayes wins the cities, but only by about 4-6% of the total vote. Logan can now make up that ground.
This is what Andrew Roraback failed to do in 2012. The cities went for
Hayes Esty by 27,000 votes that year, or around 9.5% of the total votes cast. Roraback won the towns outside the cities by 19,000 votes, but obviously that wasn’t enough to save him.
The second thing Logan needs to do is run up the score in larger suburban/rural towns, like Cheshire, Newtown, New Milford, Watertown, and Farmington. These towns have to go for him by fairly large numbers in order for him to overcome even a lesser showing for Hayes in the cities.
If he can do those things, neither of which are by any means easy, he can defeat the Democratic incumbent.
The canary in the coal mine for Hayes is Simsbury. This is an affluent, fairly progressive town that has swung hard to Democrats over the past decade. If she doesn’t win convincingly here, or if she actually loses the town, she’s in deep trouble.
The place to watch for Logan is Newtown. This is the kind of town he needs to win, and he needs to win it by a healthy margin. If it goes for Hayes, his night is likely over.
I’ve mapped out what a Logan win could look like on November 8th. Is it likely? I have no idea. The voters will have the final say.