by Jennifer Swift
Jun 17, 2014
11:40 AMConnecticut Politics
Connecticut's Gubernatorial Race May Be Won in the Big Cities
A perfect storm formed over Connecticut politics in 2010 when Dannel Malloy became the first Democrat in more than 20 years to win a gubernatorial race.
Enthusiasm, an electorate that had cooled to the idea of Republican control of the governor’s mansion, and the support of Connecticut’s largest cities helped propel the former mayor of Stamford to victory.
The Democratic dominance enjoyed by Malloy and his party in 2010 may be hard to repeat in 2014. Turnout in the cities has always been central to the Democrats election strategy, and the political wind may no longer be at Malloy’s back.
“It’s just not the same dynamic as four years ago when there was this sort of hunger within the state’s Democrats to get a Democratic governor elected,” says Vin Moscardelli, assistant professor of political science at UConn. “And yet he barely won.”
The governor finds himself in a statistical tie with Republican Tom Foley, who the incumbent governor barely beat in 2010. Foley still faces a primary challenge from Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton and state Sen. John McKinney, R-Fairfield. Former West Hartford councilman Joseph Visconti plans to run, but still has not qualified for the primary.
“Despite the cyclical nature of turnout, Malloy’s narrow victory in 2010 was largely propelled by excitement,” says Ron Schurin, UConn associate political science professor-in-residence. Malloy was running against a party with a retiring governor and the state still had “memories” of a corrupt Republican governor, John Rowland. Malloy also had widespread union support and a strong base in Fairfield.
Political observers agree that incumbency will likely help the governor’s reelection chances, but his path to victory will look much like it did in 2010. Malloy will still need to win the cities.
“Who has won any statewide election in the recent past and not won Bridgeport?” asks Rev. Carl McCluster, pastor at Shiloh Baptist Church in Bridgeport, and a one-time Malloy supporter. “In a state where there are not a lot of votes, although we have 169 municipalities, you have to win the cities and especially cities like Bridgeport.”
Poll workers were still counting votes three days after Election Day, and Malloy’s edge in Bridgeport was largely responsible for his razor-thin victory.
But Malloy’s strength, the cities, could also seal his fate. The urban electorate votes with much less frequency than its suburban counterpart. Turnout in Connecticut for presidential races can run 20 percent higher than in governor’s races.
Democratic presidential candidates can enjoy a 40 percent increase in votes over the liberals running for governor in the state. Meanwhile, Republican turnout is far more predictable. GOP candidates running for the presidency experience about a 10 percent increase in turnout as compared to Republican candidates running for governor, according to Connecticut Secretary of State data.
And looking at Connecticut’s election map, the cities and the adjacent suburbs are blue Democrat islands surrounded largely by red Republican suburbs. In 2010, those blue islands were Malloy’s firewall.
“Historically in Connecticut, cities have tended to be much more prone to vote Democrat, and so the Democratic party really wants to see high levels of turnout,” says Louise Simmons, professor of Community Organization and chair of the Urban Issues in Social Work at UConn. “The cities balance out higher voting levels in the suburbs, which tend to be either split or more Republican.”
Establishing a beachhead in ground that has long been fertile for liberal policies, politicians and voter turnout efforts won’t be easy for Republicans. New Haven, Hartford and Bridgeport are led by Democratic mayors.
The Foley-backed think tank Connecticut Policy Institute (CPI) has been preparing a policy paper that dials in on urban issues. Education reform, job creation and crime are topics where CPI have called for change.
The stump speeches on the campaign trail will be peppered with mentions of education reform, the achievement gap, job growth, housing and the economy—the very issues that are particularly critical to cities. Democrats and Republicans will have to answer policy questions in regard to these issues, although Malloy may have an advantage in being able to run on his track record, while other candidates will have to engage in hypotheticals.
Malloy has been playing to the cities that served him victory last time around with tours in urban centers, grants for building projects and budget initiatives such as raising the minimum wage.
Though Republicans will debate the success of these policies and others like immigrant ID cards, gun-control laws and businesses-stimulus deals, Malloy is showing he’s not ignoring urban issues. In May, Malloy announced funds for a community house in New Haven—the city that voted most for him in 2010—and then made the media rounds, speaking of other inner-city issues. It was covered like a campaign event.
Still, grassroots leaders like McCluster are willing to entertain the political overtures of Republicans. McCluster has met with Tom Foley and recently spoke at an education forum hosted by CPI. His and perhaps the support of many inner-city constituents will come with conditions.
“I’m not looking for a dog-and-pony show,” says McCluster. “I’m looking for some answers.”