Reflecting on the results of Tuesday’s municipal elections, political leaders, operatives and observers around Connecticut reported better-than-expected results for Republicans, with bright spots for Democrats in the high-profile Guilford Board of Education race and other pockets of the state.
Republican Minority Leader Vincent Candelora, whose district includes North Branford and Guilford, said Republicans’ election performance should be a wake-up call for Democrats looking forward to next fall’s races.
“Municipalities have more money than they know what to do with from the American Rescue Plan, so there shouldn’t have been a lot of reason to throw out incumbents,” Candelora said. “Still, about 20 Democratic incumbent town leaders were thrown out of office, when I don’t believe any Republican incumbents at the top of the ticket lost.”
Nancy DiNardo, chair of the Connecticut Democratic Party, said voters should not overlook meaningful wins from left-leaning candidates, like Democrat Caroline Simmons narrowly overtaking Republican Bobby Valentine.
“As far as what this means for 2022, I think we’re thinking about two different types of elections,” DiNardo said. “Municipal elections are really about local issues.”
Still, Candelora said that since budget and tax issues were likely less of an issue due to federal aid, he believes that “Democratic inaction on juvenile crime” and other social issues were the bigger cause of the statewide underperformance.
“The public is frustrated with the policies Democrats put in place, especially with public safety, and I think those are the very same issues that Democrats in the state legislature will be held accountable for in 2022,” Candelora said.
As for Guilford’s Board of Education race, Candelora said opposition to critical race theory should not be counted out as a successful strategy at the ballot box.
“Democrats gamed the system by running on the Independent line, so I wouldn’t see that as an indicator of anything, especially since in Board of Education races in Colchester and New Canaan, candidates running on an anti-critical race theory platform won out,” Candelora said.
State Sen. Christine Cohen, D-Guilford, said she felt the town’s decisive vote was indicative of Connecticut values.
“I’m filled with pride for my town,” Cohen said. “We saw a landslide, 2-to-1 vote of residents in this town saying we’re not going to stand for racism.”
Cohen also highlighted Democratic success in nearby Madison and Killingworth, and said she thought the party was going into next fall’s elections in “a very strong position.”
“Democrats need to pay attention to what just happened in these local municipal elections, but what we see at the state and national level doesn’t always correspond to what happened in municipalities just a year prior,” Cohen said. “We’ve had a really great year with a Democratic-run executive branch and legislature.”
Connecticut Independent Party Chair Mike Telesca cautioned against drawing too many conclusions from Tuesday’s results.
“There’s such a disconnect between statewide and local races,” Telesca said. “The issues are completely different, and you don’t get bigger themes that go across town borders. What’s good for Watertown may be totally worthless in Waterbury, even though it’s right next door.”
When electing mayors and first selectman, Republican political operative John Kleinhans said that partisan policy issues matter far less than personal experience and commitment to the town.
“These aren’t national elections, this is someone you see on a day-to-day basis who has to fill potholes and fund schools,” Kleinhans said. “It’s about who’s active in the community, not who’s a member of what party.”
Still, Connecticut GOP chair Ben Proto said the same issues plaguing Democrats at the municipal level will be in play for state races next November.
“The map is setting up beautifully for 2022 for Republicans,” Proto said. “[Democrats] decided to go to war with parents, with education, with public health issues, and just can’t get out of their own way. Municipal elections are about local issues, but we’re also seeing some state and national politics play into this.”
While going door-to-door for Democrat Roberto Alves in Danbury, Roger Senserrich of the Connecticut Working Families Party said he heard more comments about the Biden administration than any local issue.
“Elections are so nationalized right now that what’s happening in Congress with legislation getting stuck and negotiated months has hurt Democrats up and down the ballot,” Senserrich said.
While Senserrich said the Working Families Party had some success expanding their footprint in towns like Bridgeport, Norwalk and New London, he said he felt that Tuesday was “a very tough night for progressives.”
Other minority party leaders expressed similar frustrations.
Cassandra Martineau, co-chair of the Connecticut Green Party, echoed Senserrich’s disappointment with national gridlock impacting local races, though she did highlight two town council members her party was able to re-elect.
“Democrats are failing because, at the national level, they fail to seriously address the issues progressives keep bringing up,” Martineau said. “Their answer is to veer to the right, get nothing done, and then blame progressives on the left. The fact that they blame progressives when they fail to get anything done on popular programs is disingenuous.”
While Dan Reale of Connecticut’s Libertarian Party said they notched some wins in Sprague, he largely expressed frustration with an election where he said his party “worked way harder and spent way more money only to get punished for not being Republicans.”
“Republicans succeeded by taking a lot of credit for work we did, because they have no actual plans to remove masks in schools,” Reale said. “It’s infinitely frustrating.”