Democrats Gather at Eastern on Friday to Rally Students to the Polls

Sen. Richard Blumenthal addresses a crowd of students at Eastern Connecticut State University on Friday (CT Examiner)

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WINDHAM – An all-star roster of state Democratic candidates – Gov. Ned Lamont, Lt. Gov. Susan Bysiewicz, Sen. Richard Blumenthal, Rep. Joe Courtney, Attorney General William Tong, among others – gathered at Eastern Connecticut State University on Friday in an effort to boost turnout of college students, a demographic that rarely shows up in numbers to vote in midterm elections.

“It’s really at risk,” Lamont told students. “I thought Roe v. Wade was settled law. I thought gay rights and gay marriage was here forever. I thought that we were finally gonna finally get rid of those assault weapons once and for all. It’s all coming back in the other direction.”

Lamont urged students to fight back, roll up their sleeves and tell their friends to vote.

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The Governor was also joined by a number of Democratic candidates for office, including Sean Scanlon, a candidate for Comptroller, Treasurer candidate Erick Russell, State Sen. Mae Flexer and State Rep. Susan Johnson

Gov. Ned Lamont speaks with students at Eastern Connecticut State University gathered for the rally (CT Examiner)

They spoke to a large crowd of students that had assembled, reminding them that their rights were at stake.

According to a study by Pew Research, Lamont has a better chance of earning their vote than his opponent Bob Stefanowski – 24 percent of Connecticut voters aged 18-29 leaned Democrat, while only 11 percent leaned Republican. 

But statistics from the Office of the Secretary of the State also show that college students typically don’t turnout in large numbers in non-presidential elections. Almost 67 percent of voters aged 18-22 voted in the 2020 presidential election, but two years prior, only 30 percent came to the polls. This year, there were nearly 137,000 registered college-age voters in Connecticut.

Earlier in October, Central Connecticut State University hosted a forum on abortion rights boosting the candidacy of Rep. Jahana Hayes, who is in a tight re-election fight in the 5th Congressional District.

A CT Examiner poll of Connecticut’s 2nd Congressional District, which includes ECSU, found that 31 percent of people aged 18-34 said the economy/inflation were most important to them, and 25 percent chose abortion.

“We are four days away from Roevember 8th, and we wanted to be here with you because we need you,” Bysiewicz told students. “We need young voters to win.”

Bysiewicz warned students that the election was a matter of life or death with women’s reproductive rights on the ballot. 

“We are the team that you can trust to protect women’s reproductive health care,” Bysiewicz said. “We’ve got the receipts.”

Will Engle, a sophomore at ECSU, told CT Examiner he would be voting next week, and that abortion was an important issue for him this election season. Engle said it was important for young voters’ voices to be heard, but as a political science major, he didn’t foresee many students hitting the polls. 

“A lot of kids are politically active but a lot don’t actually go out to vote,” Engle said. “That’s really the biggest challenge.

While Engle said he typically leaned liberal, Ryan Morris, another sophomore at ECSU, told CT Examiner that he considered himself moderate. Morris said the economy was at the forefront of his concerns this election season.

Lt. Gov. Susan Bysiewicz works the crowd at a rally on Friday at Eastern Connecticut State University (CT Examiner)

During the event, Blumenthal asked students uninterested in voting to imagine what Republicans would do for student debt.

“Do you think they’re going to allow the student debt relief to go forward? No way,” said Blumenthal.

Blumenthal asked ECSU students to think beyond themselves and consider whose side they were on. He brought up the recently passed Inflation Reduction Act, an effort to reduce carbon emission, fight inflation and invest in energy production.

“Every Democrat voted for it. Every Republican voted against it,” said Blumenthal. “That’s where they will take the country.”

Courtney told students that he knew exactly how important their votes were, especially given his slim margin of victory when he took office in 2006 – 83 votes out of 241,000 cast.

“If you talk to anyone who says it’s not important, have them call me because the fact of the matter is the campuses in eastern Connecticut – here at Eastern and also at UConn – were the deciding factor,” Courtney said.

Courtney recalled that 2006 was also the year that Democrats flipped the House of Representatives, unfroze Pell Grants and cut interest rates for the Stafford Student Loan Program.

“We know what happened when the Republicans took over again,” Courtney said. “They put Betsy DeVos in charge of the U.S. Department of Education, who did everything that she could to torpedo the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program.”

Courtney said students asking themselves which political party was on their side had a crystal clear answer, and they needed to ensure that the progress made in the last two years could continue.