New Britain Had 2.6K Fewer Voters Than ’18 Gubernatorial Election
By John McNamara
Urban votes in state and federal elections are the firewalls for Democratic candidates to win competitive races in Connecticut. New Britain, the most reliable Democratic town in non-municipal years in the 5th Congressional District (CT-5), joined other cities in a lower turnout this year compared to the gubernatorial election in 2018.
The state’s eighth largest city recorded 14,493 votes last Tuesday, a 41.86% turnout of the 34,619 on the rolls. In 2018, when Governor Ned Lamont and U.S. Rep. Jahana Hayes were first elected, there were 17,144 who voted in a 54% turnout of the 31,615 registered voters four years ago.
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New Britain’s 2,651 vote drop was not an outlier this year. Other cities in CT-5 and throughout the state recorded less participation. In Danbury, 21,079 went to the polls in 2022 compared to 2018’s 23,524. At the other end of the district the City of Meriden recorded 15,912 total votes compared to 2018’s 19,029. Combining those three Democratic leaning CT-5 cities, turnout was down 7,541 in the raw numbers in the hotly contested race involving Hayes and George Logan, a former State Senator, who gained traction and plenty of national GOP help early.
Statewide and local factors figured into New Britain’s 41.86% turnout. The slide of urban voters has been noted by the New Haven Register’s John Moritz and CT Mirror’s Jose Luis Martinez in their post-election assessments in cities across the state.
For most of the Democratic ticket fewer New Britain votes didn’t matter in a statewide romp for Governor Lamont, Senator Richard Blumenthal and the four Constitutional Officers. The stumbling gubernatorial campaign of Republican Bob Stefanowski and Trump acolyte Leora Levy’s challenge of Blumenthal almost certainly figured into some Democratic complacency. The moderate Lamont’s tax policies and his getting credit for putting the state’s fiscal house in order clearly won unaffiliated and more Republican votes.
In New Britain’s state legislative races none of the Republican nominees qualified for public financing grants that fuel General Assembly campaigns. Moreover registered Democrats in New Britain are now at 44%, which is still a four to one advantage over Republicans, but well under 50% of voters of past years. Like elsewhere unaffiliated voters are reaching parity to Democrats at 42%.
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In CT-5 Republican George Logan, who relocated into the congressional district, posed a serious challenge that should have put the Hayes campaign and Democrats on their toes. Last summer was the time to open storefronts and rev up the grassroots in the neighborhoods of New Britain and Meriden.
Logan, the son of immigrants, bilingual and a person of color, assiduously avoided the Trumpster label and stuck to his talking points: blaming Joe Biden and Hayes for inflation and for being soft on crime and trying to have it both ways on a woman’s right to choose.
A depressed Democratic turnout in cities would surely give Logan the boost he needed so long as towns in the Farmington Valley and Northwest Hills leaned Republican as they had in so many prior elections. It was that way in the 1990s when New Britain’s Nancy Johnson was clobbered in her home town in U.S. House races against Plainville’s Charlotte Koskoff only to clean up in Republican-leaning towns in the rest of the district.
As the fall campaign wore on Logan’s campaign put the district in the toss up column giving the GOP the best hope to break the 16-year-old Democratic hold in CT-5.
In the end the urban vote shortfall meant Hayes could not dispatch Republican Logan on Election night, raising GOP hopes that their imported nominee would bring the “red wave” here. Logan, in fact, took the lead into Wednesday morning after Election Day because of initial under-reporting of results for New Britain and late reporting results from the Town of Salisbury. By late Wednesday, however, Hayes, helped by a stronger vote in the Farmington Valley and Northwest hills, prevailed to avoid a recount. Notably, the 3,982 votes Hayes got from the Working Families Party (labor) line put Logan out of recount range and not the Democratic Party vote alone.
There is a post-election lesson for Jahana Hayes and other Democrats in places like New Britain: it helps to mobilize a ground game early in cities against a formidable opponent. Big media, social media and robocalls help, but block by block and street by street high-touch contact takes months. Retail politics is still the best way to drive up New Britain’s and other cities’ turnout over or near the 50% mark. That kind of turnout can ensure a blue CT-5 every two years.
This post is published with permission in the New Britain Progressive, New Britain’s volunteer community online newspaper.