Republican Sam Belsito of Tolland, a town council member and clothing-store owner, won a special election Tuesday night to fill the vacancy in the 53rd House District of Ashford, Tolland and Willington.
The win over Democrat Anthony J. Horn of Ashford in the 53rd House District gives the GOP minority its 53rd seat, the most since it had 56 in 2004.
Belsito beat Horn, 1,910 to 1,356, carrying Tolland (1,024 to 794) and Willington (549 to 181). Horn won Ashford, 381 to 337.
"We're very proud of Sam and the entire team," said House Minority Leader Lawrence F. Cafero Jr., R-Norwalk.
Once Belsito is sworn in, Democrats still will control the House by a comfortable margin, 98 to 53. He will succeed Rep. Bryan Hurlburt, D-Tolland, who resigned to take a post with the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Both Belsito and Horn were publicly financed candidates, earning grants of $20,138 after qualifying by raising $3,750 in donations of no more than $100. Each spent most heavily on direct mail appeals.
Cafero tried to draw a connection between the GOP victory and the Democratic majority's recently adopted budget.
"Republicans won the seat once held by Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman just days after the Democrats passed a budget that raises taxes, borrows hundreds of millions to pay for operating expenses and balances by expanding gambling," he said.
The seat was expected to be competititve for Republicans. Hurlburt won the seat by just 235 votes in 2010, 5,301 to 5,066.
The district includes Ashford, Tolland and Willington.
"Sam Belsito and his team did a tremendous job getting the vote out in what was obviously a difficult race for Republicans to win," Cafero said. "It was a testament to Republican grass-roots efforts in a shortened election. But we got the vote out in Willington, Tolland and Ashford, and our message resonated with voters."
Horn is a member of the Ashford Board of Finance who was trying to break Tolland's hold on the seat.
House Speaker J. Brendan Sharkey, D-Hamden, and Cafero each made a campaign visit to the district Tuesday.
Democratic State Chairwoman Nancy DiNardo issued a congratulatory statement.
“I would like to congratulate Sam Belsito on his victory tonight," she said. "I want to thank Tony Horn, his campaign team, and volunteers. While the outcome is not what we would have hoped, we can be proud of the campaign that was run in the 53rd. ”
Correction: As originally posted, this article reported the GOP won 56 seats in 2004. It held 56 seats in the 2004 session and won 52 in the 2004 election.