OP-ED | The Little Special Election That Could? Windsor Republican May Tip Senate to GOP
As the nation weighs the seismic impact of life under a Trump administration whose wheels seem to be coming off, we could soon witness earth-moving changes in Connecticut’s political landscape as well.
In normal times, a special election to fill the seat of a state senator who resigned shortly after being elected wouldn’t turn many heads outside of that senate district itself. But in 2016, the equilibrium of power in the upper chamber hangs in the balance.
That’s because in November, Republicans managed to flip three seats, leaving the Senate deadlocked between Democrats and Republicans at 18 apiece. A power-sharing agreement was negotiated on how to operate the now-evenly-divided chamber.
Then two senators from different parties, Rob Kane and Eric Coleman, reneged on the implicit promise they made to voters to serve if elected. Both resigned to take higher-paying jobs elsewhere in the lucrative colossus known as the state government. It was obviously a deal cooked up by legislative leaders to allow two of their own to pad their wallets without altering the balance of power.
Miniature party conventions were held to produce nominees for the open seats. Special elections were called for Feb. 28. Barring a miracle, Kane’s seat is unlikely to flip. His district includes portions of New Haven and Litchfield counties that have traditionally leaned Republican. But Democrat Coleman’s could be a different story.
It’s not that the towns in the 2nd Senate district — most of Windsor and Bloomfield, as well as Hartford’s north end — are GOP bastions akin to, say, New Canaan or Middlebury. After all, the Fightin’ 2nd went for Hillary Clinton over Trump by a margin of more than 6-1. But that doesn’t necessarily mean anything. Republicans control 42 General Assembly seats that Clinton carried, according to the Daily Kos, which tracks these things so that you and I don’t have to.
So there still could be enough Republicans and independents to flip the seat in the Republicans’ favor. And with an unpopular Democratic governor guiding a state budget that continues on a disastrous path, the electorate is clearly in the mood for change after more than two decades of Coleman and six of Dannel Malloy.
That does not bode well for the Democratic nominee for the 2nd district Senate race, incumbent state Rep. Douglas McCrory, D-Hartford, whose smaller House district is limited to a city that has no functioning Republican Party to speak of.
Worse yet, McCrory holds the title of deputy majority leader, which makes him very much a part of the establishment and ties him to just about anything unpopular that comes out of the Capitol. And try as he might, McCrory will find it exceedingly difficult for a lawmaker in a leadership position to distance himself from a sitting governor of his own party.
Over the last several months, Malloy has reacted to the budget crisis by offending just about every interest group in the state. Complicating the matter is that the governor wants to limit or cut municipal aid in such a way that hurts places like Bloomfield and Windsor while increasing aid to the nearly-bankrupt Capital City. I’m betting independents (and some Democrats) in those two towns won’t care much for that.
“I think I’ll make a good state senator because the experience I have gained over the past 12 years representing the 7th District and my ability to work with other state representatives and state senators,” McCrory told The Courant last month. Translation: McCrory has been a lawmaker at the Capitol for a dozen of its worst years.
Enter Republican Michael McDonald. A relatively fresh face at 39, McDonald is a former member of both the Windsor Town Council and Board of Education, serving a total of 10 years in those positions. He’s also run for Congress and Secretary of the State. Judging from his campaign website, I’d say he’s a pretty strong supporter of the Second Amendment, though I’m not sure how well that will serve him in the 2nd.
McDonald is running a send-a-message-to-Malloy campaign, adding on his Facebook page that his goals include “changing the direction of this state for our children and their children.” And he’s open about his reasons for running: so that Republicans can take over the Senate.
Turnout will be key. I reached out to the Secretary of the State’s office to see how many people typically vote in a special Senate election. Officials there did not have numbers at the ready but they did point me to a handful of special elections in the past few years.
A January 2012 special House election showed a turnout of almost 16 percent in New Britain and more than 13 percent in Newington. In a 2015 special election in Senate district 23, which includes portions of Bridgeport and Stratford, only a little more than 3,000 showed up at the polls. In a regular election the following year, more than 21,000 people voted. Granted, 2016 was a presidential election year so the turnout would be inflated compared to an off-year.
Senate districts are all approximately the same size: about 90,000 people live within their boundaries. Both candidates have qualified for public financing — this is described as a rare event for Republicans in Windsor — local Democrats thought it was a first — so it could mean McDonald has momentum.
Based on that, and if McDonald can convince a few thousand independents to show up in Bloomfield and in his hometown of Windsor, he just might be able to flip the seat.
What happens then? Well, the carefully laid plans of the party elders who orchestrated the deal allowing Kane and Coleman to resign and preserve the status quo simply collapses. Even if you’re not a Republican, you’d have to revel in the misery of the legislative leaders who were too clever by half.
There will be a mad scramble. If McDonald wins, all the committee assignments would have to be redone. Staff would have to be reconfigured. It would be a monumental shakeup that could stymie Malloy and Democrats like McCrory at every turn.
You can call it the aftershock of the Trump earthquake. Or the little special election that could.
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