Incumbency Was the Best Predictor of Connecticut’s State Elections

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There won’t be many new faces in Hartford come January. However smashing or historic, incumbency, above all else, was the best predictor of this week’s Connecticut General Assembly election outcomes, and Democrats will retain their majority in both houses.

Every incumbent state senator running for re-election held their seat. As of today’s vote count, only three incumbent state representatives — Democratic State Rep. Phillip Young, Republican State Rep. Kimberly Fiorello and Democratic State Rep. Christine Goupil —  lost to challengers from the other side of the aisle. 

Neither did many of the open seats vacated by incumbents change party hands. So far, out of 24 open races in the State House of Representatives, two districts have flipped Democratic and one has flipped Republican. Out of eight open races in the State Senate, just one flipped. It went to the Democrats. 

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Two races awaiting recounts might change that tally. One in Southington where Democrat Chris Poulos has a six vote edge over Republican challenger Tony Morrison for a seat previously held by Republican State Rep. John Fusco. And another in the Danbury area, where Democratic State Rep. Kenneth Gucker trails his opponent, Republican Rachel Chaleski, chair of the Danbury Board of Education, by 27 votes. 

“It was a surprise,” Gucker said of the recount. He won his district, which includes New Fairfield, Ridgefield and parts of Danbury, in 2018, one of only two Democrats to win the seat since 1993. 

Of the few districts the Democratic Party did cede to Republicans on Tuesday, all were hardfought wins even before the General Assembly instituted new district lines earlier this year, either traditionally voting Republican or frequently switching between parties over at least the past 10 years. 

In 2018, State Rep. Philip Young received an on-air mention from Rachel Maddow when he won the 120th District in a special election, the first Democrat to do so in any election in 44 years. Maddow said the Democrats “clawed back” the Stratford seat.

“I knew it was going to be tight,” Young said of the 2022 election. “In this district, in my last three elections, it’s always been tight.” He lost to Republican Laura Dancho, a Stratford Town Council Member, by two percentage points. 

One-term Democratic State Rep. Christine Goupil lost in the 35th District to Chris Aniskovich, a Republican who chairs the Clinton Town Council, by two percentage points. She had won the seat in 2020 after Republicans held it for six years.

The Democrats, however, didn’t leave the night without a few prizes: they won back three Republican strongholds.

Hector Arzeno became the first Democrat in town history to win Greenwich’s 151st District. He beat Republican Peter Sherr for the seat previously held by State Rep. Harry Arora, who Arzeno lost to in 2020. 

In the 149th District, which includes portions of Greenwich and Stamford, Democratic challenger Rachel Khanna unseated first-term Republican State Rep. Kimberely Fiorello, focusing her campaign on the incumbent’s conservative voting record. Before Fiorello, Republican State Rep. Livvy Floren held the seat for 10 years.  

Martha Marx, a New London Democrat, handily beat Jerry Labriola Jr., a former chair of the state Republican party, in her third attempt to capture the 20th District state senate seat vacated by Paul Formica.

Marx will represent New London, Bozrah, East Lyme, Montville, Old Lyme, Old Saybrook, Salem and Waterford – towns that also returned incumbent State Representatives Devin Carney, Holly Cheeseman and Kathleen McCarty – all Republicans – to office. 

Republican Mark Decpario was the only Republican to have flipped an open seat in a relatively rural district. He will succeed Democratic State Rep. ​​Brian Smith in the 48th District, beating Democrat Wesley Skorski by seven percentage points. 

Decaprio has run twice before for this seat and attributed part of his newfound success to redistricting, which cut out Mansfield and Windham out of the District  and added Bozrah and Franklin. The district still includes Colchester, Bozrah, Franklin and Lebanon.

Randy Raines challenged incumbent State Rep. Liz Linehan, a Democrat who has been in office for six years, and he lost by more than 10 percentage points. On election night Raines told CT Examiner it would be “almost a relief” if he lost, but yesterday expressed disappointment with the outcome.

During the campaign, Raines, a Republican, advocated for term limits – a political cause also taken up by Sujata Gadkar-Wilcox, a Democrat, who unsuccessfully ran to unseat incumbent State Rep. David Rutigliano for the third cycle in a row. Rutigliano has represented Trumbull for 10 years in the state legislature and beat Gadkar-Wilcox by nine percentage points. 

“Our message was about grassroots engagement and a better kind of politics, thinking about political reform and things like term limits, more transparency, more accountability.” Gadkar-Wilcox said. She later added, “We need to remain vigilant to this message of change and democratic engagement.”

Overall, only about four percent of the seats in the Assembly came under control of a new party. Depending on the outcome of a few key races, Democrats may have exactly the same number of seats in the State House as before the election.

Jonathan Wharton, a professor of political science at Southern Connecticut State University, said he thought the power of incumbency, particularly in the cities, had to do with Democratic Town Committees creating a kind of “political apparatus” that prevented new candidates from breaking through and running for office. 

“Incumbents generally win out, but in Connecticut, boy do they ever,” said Wharton. “Democratic Town Committees, along with the Democratic state party, are very effective at preventing any kind of internal challenges within the political party.”