Nancy DiNardo, a former teacher and administrator in Bridgeport, serves as chair of the Connecticut Democratic Party. DiNardo previously served as chair of the Democratic National Committee’s Eastern Regional Caucus.
The Connecticut Examiner spoke with DiNardo about her hopes for this fall’s elections.
This interview has been edited for clarity.
How do you see your role as chair of the Connecticut Democratic Party?
My role is to provide campaign leadership to our elected officials, candidates, and town committees, and my job is to help candidates at all levels frame and deliver a message that will get voters to come out to the polls and support Democratic values.
What municipal races are you watching this fall?
I think New Britain is a place that could actually flip. It has a large Democratic population, and our candidate, State Rep. Bobby Sanchez, is well-known beyond just his district. He has a good reputation, and I think he’s a strong candidate. Roberto Alves is also a strong candidate that can make Danbury a Democratic city again. Even in New Fairfield, we have a Democrat running unopposed, and a lot of these are places you might have expected to stay Republican, but I’m optimistic about them flipping.
Connecticut does have many small towns that tend to lean Republican, so even though the state is very blue, more towns are Republican-controlled. Still, we have seen changes, especially in Fairfield County, and I’m optimistic that we will be successful. I really think we’ll be able to pick up some seats in some of the smaller towns.
We just have to make sure people understand what the Democrats stand for. The three major issues historically in local towns have been taxes, safety, and education, and I think the Democrats have been on the right side of all of those. We’re prioritizing keeping children safe and making sure everyone is healthy, and the Delta variant is really upsetting people, and the Governor has done a great job handling that. The state is fiscally sound, and we’re in the best shape as a state that we’ve been in a long time, and that makes a difference at the local level in municipal budgets.
Do you anticipate Gov. Lamont facing a primary for the Democratic nomination for governor next year?
No, I don’t. He also hasn’t announced that he’s seeking reelection yet, though I know everybody is making that assumption. I think that Ned has done a great job, and the fact that he tends to try and reach across party lines makes a difference. He really cares about the state, and people know that. It doesn’t mean that there might not be somebody who might want to primary him, but don’t see at least the gubernatorial race being an area where we might have a primary. Even before he was thinking about running for Governor this past time, I noticed that he would always talk to businesses outside the state and encourage them to come to Connecticut. It wasn’t something everyone heard about, it wasn’t publicized, but it’s one of the major things I feel about the governor – he truly loves Connecticut. He’s done a great job, and he really cares about people and this state.
Democrats had full control at every branch of state government this past legislative session. Do you feel that they took full advantage of that opportunity, even if they were unable to pass policies like the public option?
Took advantage makes it seem like a power trip, but leaders on both sides worked together this past session, especially on the bipartisan budget. Sports betting will also bring a lot of revenue to the state, and that is a major accomplishment. We have seen over the years that there are some bills that take longer to get passed than others. I know insurance companies were certainly concerned about that and what impact it would have on their businesses, but I think I do see it coming up again. There are a lot of people who do want it, not enough that it’s been able to get passed, but enough that it is something that people were trying to push, explore what other people’s concerns are, and try to address them.
What influence do you think President Trump still has over the Republican party here in Connecticut?
A lot of what’s happening here is definitely following in Trump’s footsteps, but do I think Trump started this? No, there’s been anger and animosity throughout our history. Still, Trump supporting it just gave it more credence. I do think that Trump’s views have been part of the Republican platform here, and the behavior of the Republican party and its leadership is really troubling.
They’re undermining public health efforts, encouraging parents to attend meetings and verbally attack elected officials, especially board of education candidates who are just trying to do their jobs. It’s so Trump-like, it disturbs me to see that at the local level. We may not agree on policies, but I would like to think that both sides could agree that we should just take our competing visions to the people and hope voters make decisions based on that. Denying science, or the outcome of elections, is troubling to me.
Still, I know that a number of Republicans in Connecticut have left the Republican Party because they couldn’t support Trump. Most became unaffiliated, but some became Democrats, and I’ve met them. I do believe that voters in Connecticut, including Republican voters, tend to look at issues more than anything.
Nearly 40 percent of Connecticut voters supported Trump in 2020. What appeal do you think Trump has in Connecticut, and can the Democratic party here get back those voters?
The people who support Trump are a difficult population to get back, and quite honestly, I’m not sure. I would want to know what it was about Trump that made them decide that that was who they want to support, and I think there are a range of issues that might make a difference as far as why they might be Trump supporters.
I would hope that in some of our cities and towns, that they’re looking at the local issues. Even if they might like what Trump did on the national level, as they look at what’s going on in cities and towns, they would be people that I would think might be more likely to support a Democrat.
According to the newest Census data, Connecticut has seen both an increase in racial diversity and a decline in younger populations. What do these changing demographics mean for the Democratic Party here?
If you look at the Democratic Party compared to the Republican Party, we’ve always welcomed diversity. An increase in diversity is an advantage for us, because we’ve always reached out to all people. Within the party in Connecticut, we’ve been establishing the caucuses like the Black Caucus, Asian American Pacific Islander caucus, Hispanic Caucus, LGBTQ caucus, etc., and the whole purpose is to engage more people from all backgrounds to help them understand what we’re doing in the party.
Young people moving out is a concern, and as Democrats, we are engaging more young people as candidates and in politics in general. If people see more young people engaged and involved, it might be a reason for them to stay. Still, even with those population changes, we are seeing more of our towns that have been red in the past turning purple and even blue. While young people certainly help, I wouldn’t say that’s the only factor in keeping Connecticut blue.
A few Republican candidates have already announced that they’ll be challenging Connecticut Democrats for next year’s races for Congressional races. How prepared are the state’s incumbent Democrats for those reelection campaigns?
I’m not concerned about them at all. Our congressional delegation is truly phenomenal, and I’ve gotten to know all of them, and they’ve all done a phenomenal job. They come back to districts regularly to meet with people. They always stood up against extremism in the Trump administration, and they’ve brought things to Connecticut, and voters across the state can see that. What always impresses me about our delegation is that they really like and respect each other, and work together as a team.
A year in politics is a long time, but we’ve seen the Democratic party address people’s needs like through the American Recovery Plan, and we’ll be able to point out that Republicans didn’t support it, and that brought so much to Connecticut. I think there are a lot of Republicans who believe in what were once the principles of the Republican party, but aren’t seeing that anymore, and so they’re going to vote for candidates as individuals, not just based on what party they’re in.