The Connecticut primary: A perfunctory contest for president, and a long wait for others
Legislature: Two close races in Bridgeport
Updated at 7:48 a.m. Wednesday.
The top-line races were easy. Soon after the polls closed Tuesday night, the Associated Press declared Republican Donald J. Trump and Democrat Joe Biden winners of the year’s final presidential nomination contest, the twice-delayed Connecticut primary.
But the results for some nominations in 14 state legislative districts and Republican nominations in two congressional districts could take days as the last votes aren’t expected to arrive until Thursday’s mail — one of the many firsts in a primary shaped by a pandemic and a massive blackout.
All ballots postmarked by Tuesday will be counted, so long as they arrive in the mail on Wednesday or Thursday. Gov. Ned Lamont signed an executive order authorizing the extension out of concern the power outages might delay the mail.
More than 100,000 Democrats and 41,000 Republicans turned out to ratify the nominations of Biden and Trump, according to partial returns posted by nearly 150 of Connecticut’s 169 cities and towns in the state’s online reporting system. Biden had about 84% of the Democratic vote; Trump, nearly 80% of the GOP tally.
The fates of three Democratic legislators were unclear, with close races in Bridgeport and scant results posted from Bloomfield.
With the presidential primaries long settled, the focus in Connecticut was on the complications in producing results in the first election in which every voter could use an absentee ballot as a concession to COVID-19.
Turnout at the polls was light, but the number of votes cast by absentee ballots that arrived by mail and were hand-delivered by voters to secured drop boxes were certain to set a record, said Secretary of the State Denise Merrill.
Voters were greeted at the polls by workers wearing masks and gloves. Some also were shielded by Plexiglas.
“The day went very smoothly in the polling places around the state,” Gabe Rosenberg, a spokesman for Merrill, said after the polls closed. “We had one very minor hiccup in Simsbury, when the power went out.”
Local officials were ready with a generator, and voting proceeded, he said.
A focus on Democratic seats
No Republican incumbent faced a primary, while one state senator and four House members faced Democratic primaries.
Sen. Marilyn Moore of Bridgeport, Rep. Antonio Felipe of Bridgeport and Rep. Bobby Gibson of Bloomfield faced strong challenges. The two Bridgeport races were close, and Bloomfield was slow to post results in Gibson’s district, though House Democrats say unofficial results favored Gibson.
Reps. Brandon McGee of Hartford and Charlie Stallworth of Bridgeport, the other incumbents whose nominations were challenged, won easily.
There was confusion in the Democratic primary for the open seat in the 24th House District. The endorsed candidate, New Britain Alderman Manny Sanchez, claimed a solid victory, but the results posted by local officials on the state web site listed his challenger, Richard Lacourciere, as the winner.
House Democrats say Sanchez won with about 60% of the vote — the number wrongly listed in his opponent’s column on the elections returns site.
Republicans had primaries in the 1st and 2nd Congressional Districts, a state Senate District and three state House Districts, most in places where the GOP has little or no chance of winning in November.
The night’s curiosity was whether Thomas Gilmer, the party-endorsed Republican in the 2nd Congressional District, would win a primary over Justin Anderson. Despite a last-minute withdrawal after his arrest in connection with allegations of domestic violence, the race was tight, with Anderson holding only a small lead.
Anderson, said he provided video and photographic evidence, obtained from the victim, to the police.
The 2nd District seat has been considered safe for Democrats since U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney unseated Republican Rob Simmons in 2006.
In the 1st Congressional District, Mary Fay of West Hartford, the endorsed candidate, defeated Jim Griffin of Bristol. No Republican has won that district since Dwight Eisenhower was president.
The marquee Democratic race was in Bridgeport, the state’s largest city and a reliable source of election-day drama.
Moore, the state senator who lost the party endorsement to Marcus A. Brown, a two-term city councilman, was trying to regain the nomination Tuesday in a primary hampered by her reluctance to campaign due to COVID. Unofficial results showed Moore with a 100-vote lead, with nearly 2,000 absentee ballots to be counted and more that could arrive in the mail Wednesday and Thursday.
Moore, 73, did no door-to-door campaigning.
“It’s been very strange,” said Moore, reached by phone after poll-standing, more or less incognito, in a mask. She literally kept voters at arms-length, hardly the standard posture for a politician on an election day.
Brown, 29, initially skipped door-knocking, but reconsidered after Connecticut’s infection rate dropped and he deemed campaigning safe.
“So we did it — masks, gloves, knock on the door, go six feet back and talk to the voters. It worked out, and I hope it pays off,” Brown said outside a polling station at Central High School.
Brown got the full advantage of being the party-endorsed candidate, which placed him on the top line of the ballot with Biden on a day when the former vice president made history by choosing Sen. Kamala Harris, a Black woman, as his running mate.
In Bridgeport, the organization behind party-endorsed candidates generally produces an advantage in the absentees, as Moore bitterly learned last year in her challenge of Mayor Joseph P. Ganim. Moore won at the polls, but lost on the absentees.
But the X-factor this year is that every registered Democrat and Republican was mailed an absentee ballot application for the primary by the secretary of the state’s office. Would that blunt the advantage of what is perhaps the state’s last political machine?
Democrats had contests for nominations in eight state House districts, with all but one in a district that is either Democratic-leaning or Democratic-dominated — meaning that the primary could foretell the winner in November.
Incumbents were challenged in four solid Democratic districts, while the other three Democratic-favored districts were open due to the retirements of Reps. Joe Verrengia of West Hartford and Russ Morin of Wethersfield and Rep. Rick Lopes of New Britain running for state Senate.
The House Democrats facing primaries and their challengers were:
- Reps. Brandon McGee and Craig T. Stallings of Hartford in the 5th.
- Reps. Bobby Gibson and Danielle DW Wong of Bloomfield in the 15th.
- Reps. Charlie Stallworth and Tony Barr of Bridgeport in the 126th.
- and Reps. Antonio Felipe and Kelvin Ayala of Bridgeport in the 130th.
In the three Democrat primaries for open House seats, the endorsed and challenging candidates were:
- Sherry Haller and Kate Farrar of West Hartford in the 20th. Farrar won with 72% of the vote
- Manny Sanchez and Richard Lacourciere of New Britain in the 24th.
- and Paul Montinieri and Amy Morrin Bello of Wethersfield in the 28th. Bello appeared to be the winner, with 54% 0f the vote.
There also was a Democratic primary for the nomination for the Republican-held 45th District seat between Mark DePonte and Pamela Patalano. Deponte won and will face Rep. Brian Lanoue, R-Griswold.
In the 17th Senate District, Jorge Cabrera was challenged by Justin Farmer for the Democratic nomination. Both are from Hamden. The winner faces Sen. George Logan, R-Ansonia, in what is expected to be a competitive race.
Cabrera, who was the Democratic nominee two years ago, appeared to be winning, though results posted to the secretary of the state’s web site were faulty. It reported numbers from more precincts than exist.
Fewer GOP races
Most of the Republican primaries were fights for nominations in what are certain to be losing efforts in the fall, but a notable exception was the contest in the 30th House District, a Democratic seat that the party has all but ceded to the GOP. It is held by House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz, D-Berlin, who is not seeking re-election. He barely won two years ago against a lightly funded, last-minute challenger.
Donna Veach of Berlin, the party-endorsed candidate, was challenged this year by Jim Townsley of Southington. Veach had nearly 60% of the vote Tuesday night.
There also is a GOP primary for the nomination in the 82nd District, also an open race due to the retirement of Rep. Buddy Altobello, D-Meriden. Mike Skelps of Middlefield, the endorsed candidate, easily defeated Ernestine Holloway of Meriden.
In Bridgeport, where the GOP has little support, there was a primary for the nomination in the 128th House District. The endorsed candidate, Joseph J. Borges, was defeated by Ethan Book, who will face Rep. Chris Rosario, a Democrat, in the fall.
In the 26th Senate District, Kim Healy of Wilton, the endorsed candidate, defeated William Duff of Bethel for the nomination to challenge Sen. Will Haskell, D-Wesport, in November. Haskell unseated Republican Toni Boucher in 2018.
Presidential primaries without purpose
While Trump and Biden had clinched their presidential nominations, their opponents declined to formally withdraw.
Republicans had objected to Merrill’s decision to place Rocky De La Fuente on the ballot against Trump, a decision based on Connecticut’s statutory standard of deciding on a candidate’s credibility by press coverage.
With 147 of 169 towns reporting, Trump had 79.5% of the vote, while 13% chose to vote “uncommitted.” De La Fuente had 7%.
Bernie Sanders and U.S. Rep Tulsi Gabbard never withdrew, even after Sanders endorsed Biden and Gabbard ended her campaign.
Biden was leading Sanders, 84% to 12%, with Gabbard at 1.4% and 2.4% choosing to vote uncommitted.
By continuing, the challengers had some hope of winning delegates, giving them a voice at the nominating conventions. But those conventions now have been largely shelved due to the pandemic.
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