Connecticut Senate Remains Split After Special Election

by | March 1, 2017

By Daniela Altimari and Steven Goode

The delicate balance of political power in the  Senate will hold following two special elections on Tuesday that preserve the status quo.

Turnout hovered around 18 percent -- according to unofficial and incomplete results -- in the two districts where voters chose a new senator: the Democratically dominated 2nd District, which includes parts of Hartford, Bloomfield and Windsor, and the 32nd District, a Republican stronghold that includes several towns surrounding Waterbury.

The Senate was divided 18 to 18 before two senators -- Democrat Eric Coleman and Republican Rob Kane -- announced this year that they were stepping down. Tuesday's results ensure the split continues.

Democratic Rep. Douglas McCrory handily turned back Republican Michael W. McDonald and two write-in candidates, Aaron Romano and Charles Jackson, to win in the 2nd District. The seat had been held by Coleman, who is leaving the chamber to pursue a judgeship.

"I'm ecstatic that I was able to win this race with 75 percent of the vote," McCrory said. "That's a mandate."

McDonald conceded about a half hour after the polls closed. He said he was proud of the race, despite the results. "The numbers are what they are," he said. "Hartford's tough, it looks like I took a pretty good beating. I guess my message didn't work there.

The 32nd District, which pitted Republican Rep. Eric Berthel against Democrat Greg Cava and petitioning candidate Daniel Lynch, drew an influx of outside money. The vacancy was created after Kane was named state auditor.

A Los Angeles-based Super PAC devoted to removing money from politics invested more than $50,000 in the race to support Cava. The National Rifle Association federal PAC and Grow Connecticut, a state-based independent expenditure group, spent money on leaflets and mobile ads backing Berthel.

Cava also received significant support from newly energized progressive activists from as far away as California, who staffed phone banks for the Democrat.

But in the end, the political realities of the conservative 32nd District proved inhospitable to Democrats.

"I don't think a Democrat has ever gotten this close," Cava said. "It was a hard-fought race and I'm very proud of all the people that worked with us across the country."

Democrats sought to make the election a referendum on President Donald Trump. "It didn't work," Connecticut Republican Chairman JR Romano said.

"Ultimately, putting Trump in [the middle] of a local state Senate race may rile up Democrats" but did not help the party in a district that Trump won by about 60 percent in November, Romano added.

"People recognize that we need to send leadership to Hartford that's going to get our fiscal house in order ... and the Democrats haven't been able to accomplish that in 30 years," Romano said.

But Democrats say the activists energized by this race will help strengthen the party. "While Greg Cava came up short, make no mistake: Democrats across Connecticut are sickened by Donald Trump's attacks on our values and are ready to get to work on 2017 and 2018 elections," said state Democratic Party spokesman Leigh Appleby.

But Liz Kurantowicz, the former state Republican Party official who runs Grow Connecticut, said there aren't necessarily any larger lessons to be gleaned from low-turnout special elections. "It's all about tactical execution," she said. "It's really about who works harder and gets their people out."

In addition to the two Senate races, there was also a special election in the House of Representatives to fill a vacancy in the 115th District created when Democrat Steve Dargan of West Haven stepped down to take an appointment on the Board of Pardons and Paroles.

In that race, Dorinda Borer, running on the Democratic and Working Families lines, beat Republican Edward R. Granfield.

House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz praised Borer, saying she will emphasize growing the state's economy. "The voters of West Haven have made a great choice for their new state representative," he said. " I look forward to working closely with her as we face the challenges ahead."

(c)2017 The Hartford Courant (Hartford, Conn.)