Jahana Hayes, the political novice whose compelling life story drew national attention, soundly defeated former Simsbury First Selectman Mary Glassman Tuesday for the Democratic nomination to represent Connecticut’s 5th Congressional District.
“People told me I had no chance and had no business doing this. Tonight we proved them wrong,” Hayes said in a victory speech to her supporters in a ballroom of the Waterbury Marriott.
She will face Republican nominee Manny Santos, the former mayor of Meriden, who defeated GOP political rivals Ruby Corby O’Neill and Rich DuPont for the right to run for the seat now held by retiring Rep. Elizabeth Esty, a Democrat who won the seat in 2012.
Glassman conceded the race shortly after 9:30 p.m. Unofficial results showed Hayes winning the primary with nearly 60 percent of the vote.
“The democratic process works when you participate,” Glassman said, congratulating Hayes on “a race well run.”
“I believe in public service,” Glassman said.
Hayes said Glassman made a gracious phone call conceding the race and offering to help in the general election. “We had a good race,” Hayes said.
Hayes, 46, has a good chance to defeat Santos and become the first black female to represent Connecticut in Congress, political analysts say. They rate the district in northwestern Connecticut as “safely” or “solidly” Democratic.
A former National Teacher of the Year, Hayes ran a strong grass-roots campaign based on a personal story that included growing up in Waterbury’s tough housing projects, experiencing homelessness and becoming pregnant as a teen. She had the valuable support of U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy, who represented the 5th District in Congress from 2007 to 2013.
“I am so proud of her and I am so proud of this district,” said Murphy, who stood next to Hayes on the victory podium. “You are going to have a fighter in Jahana Hayes.”
Hayes told an enthusiastic crowd that “this is the beginning of the real fight for the soul of the nation.”
“On November 6 we take back the nation,” she told the wildly cheering crowd.
Democrats need to flip at least 23 seats in that election to wrest control of the U.S. House from the GOP.
Tactically, Glassman had hoped to offset Hayes’s presumed advantage in Waterbury by getting good numbers in New Britain and Danbury, along with a big turn out in the Farmington Valley. It was’t big enough.
Hayes had the backing of organized labor groups, including the Service Employee International Union, the National Education Association and the AFL-CIO. Her candidacy attracted national attention, and even a documentary crew that spent hours filming enthusiastic Hayes supporters.
Andrew Doba, a consultant to the Hayes campaign, said union support helped push the candidate, an activist in a teacher’s union, over the top.
“Labor made a huge difference because they were backing one of their own,” Doba said.
Hayes was not her party’s choice. Glassman, who ran twice for lieutenant governor, won the endorsement of the state Democratic Party.
Santos was he endorsed candidate of the state GOP.
From his victory party in the Meriden Comfort Inn, Santos said he won the GOP primary because “voters understand what is at stake and know I can effectively take on the opposition.”
“Voters obviously thought I was the most credible candidate to give the Republican Party, and voters in the district, a victory,” Santos said.
On Monday, Hayes said, only half joking, that one thing she would have done differently in her campaign is “hire an attorney to go to the (state Democratic) convention with me.”
At one point during that May convention, Hayes led in the delegate count, but lost to Glassman after several delegates switched their votes.
She then ran as the underdog and a political outsider who would bring needed change, while Glassman stressed her governing experience.
“We pulled together an operation where none existed,” Hayes said. “We had this wave of enthusiasm.”
Groups in Connecticut who supported Hayes’ candidacy, including the Working Families Party, cheered her decisive win.
So did the national Democratic Party.
“National Teacher of the Year Jahana Hayes has an unmatched passion for her community, and her dedication, energy and commitment will make her an excellent representative for Connecticut families,” said Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Ben Ray Luján.
Independent candidate John Pistone will also be on November’s ballot.