Jahana Hayes succinctly summed up the high-stakes sprint happening over the next few days that will lead up to Tuesday’s elections in Connecticut and across the U.S.: “This is our Super Bowl.”
With two days to go, the Democratic incumbent in Connecticut’s 5th Congressional district, along with Democrats and Republicans across the state, fanned out on an unseasonably warm day to drive up turnout ahead of a midterm election that could have national significance in helping to decide the majority in Congress.
All five of the state’s congressional districts are on the ballot, along with high-profile contests for governor, U.S. Senate, statewide candidates for constitutional office and dozens of General Assembly seats.
Democrats will close out their campaigns with a rally Monday night in New Haven headlined by Gov. Ned Lamont, along with a number of other stops around the state.
They also will get a little help from former President Barack Obama. Voters can expect a robocall recorded by the former president urging them to vote for Lamont, who “led Connecticut through the pandemic” and “balanced the budget while increasing funding for schools, child care and job training.”
Republican gubernatorial nominee Bob Stefanowski, meanwhile, will hold a press conference outside of the state Capitol in Hartford on Monday to “wrap up” the campaign.
While the candidates are all working on their own get-out-the-vote efforts in the final days, they are in agreement about Connecticut’s race to watch: a toss-up seat that has been in Democratic hands since Chris Murphy, now a U.S. Senator, won the seat in 2006 and where Republicans hope to end their dry spell.
“There’s no race more important than the 5th Congressional District for us,” said U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., who is also up for reelection on Tuesday in a race for a third term against Republican Leora Levy. “I don’t know how to match the importance of this moment with any words. You know without my words how much is at stake.”
Hayes and her Republican opponent George Logan, a former state senator, are locked in a tight contest as she seeks a third term to Congress. The 5th District always attracts attention, but this year has been turbocharged as national groups in both parties have pumped in upwards of $12 million in outside spending.
Standing in front of a campaign bus with “AFT votes” emblazoned on the side, Hayes sought to fire up union members at a rally outside of the Meriden Federation of Teachers. She was joined by Murphy, Lt. Gov. Susan Bysiewicz, American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten and Jan Hochadel, the AFT Connecticut president who is running for the open 13th District state Senate seat against Republican Joseph Vollano.
As she tours the country before Election Day, Weingarten said Connecticut was her 12th state in 20 days. The AFT president bemoaned the growing divisions in education, arguing that teachers need to be armed “with books, not firearms” — a nod to the conservative-led push in states around the country that are banning books largely focused on racism and LGBTQ issues.
Democrats have been highlighting Hayes’ own experiences as education becomes a growing wedge issue between the parties after the pandemic led to school closures and debates over whether to mandate masks and vaccinations for students. Hayes is a former high school history teacher in Waterbury who was named the National Teacher of the Year in 2016.
Earlier on Sunday, Logan’s team issued a statement panning Hayes for campaigning with “the largest and most powerful special interest group in America” and arguing that the union has “been at odds” with teachers, parents and students. AFT’s chapter in Connecticut has a membership of 30,000 people who work as teachers and school-related personnel, as well as those in health care and local and state government.
Hayes addressed the statement, looking somewhat bewildered. “I guess, yeah, I support teachers,” she said. “Labor is its membership. Labor is your neighbor. That is labor.”
Much of the 5th District campaign has been consumed by Hayes and Logan trying to paint one another as mirror images of their parties’ most visible figures.
Logan argues that the congresswoman will continue to be in complete alignment with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and President Joe Biden, whom Republicans blame for driving up inflation. For their part, Democrats contend Logan will ultimately support GOP leaders who boosted former President Donald Trump.
“[Logan] has adopted these right-wing talking points,” Murphy said at a campaign stop in Southbury. “He will take his cues from the right-wing most extreme elements of his party.”
At another Get Out The Vote rally in front of Southbury Town Hall, Hayes sought to further neutralize Republican attacks. As she spoke, several protesters stood by the edge of the main road sporting Republican campaign signs and a large American flag.
Logan and GOP groups have sought to portray Hayes as aligned with “defund the police” activists, mostly because of her endorsement from the Working Families Party, which has tweeted in support of the movement.
Hayes has touted her support for law enforcement and her votes to boost resources for smaller departments, while also noting the importance of accountability, including her vote for the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act in Congress. While Logan was still in the state Senate, he voted against Connecticut’s own police accountability bill that became law in 2020, saying at the time the bill would contribute to an uptick in crime.
In a rare moment on the campaign trail, she got some help from her biggest supporter: her husband, Milford Hayes, who worked for the Waterbury Police Department for 25 years. The soft-spoken former detective said the rhetoric about the congresswoman’s positions on policing is “offensive.”
“I usually just stand in the back and observe,” Milford Hayes said to supporters in Southbury, after some encouragement from his wife to address the crowd. “To see the lies and the misinformation that’s being said about my wife — when people would say Jahana Hayes wants to defund the police, that’s not true at all.”
In an election cycle that has been dominated by economic issues like inflation and women’s reproductive rights in the wake of the Supreme Court’s reversal of Roe v. Wade, Hayes and Democrats are hoping to mobilize voters and make sure they are not getting complacent in the final stretch.
“The number of people across the state who have shown up to say, ‘Oh my God, I thought this was all set,'” Hayes said in an interview, referring to voter reaction to a poll that had the race in a dead heat. “They had gotten a bit complacent, and I like that. Because it gives me an opportunity to remind people you can’t just sit on the sidelines.”
Logan makes his case in the Farmington Valley
Hayes’ Republican opponent George Logan campaigned Sunday with Republican state legislative candidates in the Farmington Valley suburbs of Simsbury, Canton and Farmington, all places that have become challenging for the GOP.
It was retail politics, the hard business of going door to door in communities where Democrats outnumber Republicans, but the largest bloc of voters are unaffiliated.
“It’s not a hard pitch these next couple of days. I just want folks to see me, know who I am,” Logan said.
His current TV ad features his mother cooking in the kitchen while Logan talks about the impact of inflation on staples like rice, beans and even adobo, a favorite seasoning of his mother, a Guatemalan immigrant.
“Adobo, no!” says his mother, Olga.
At least two voters greeted Logan on Sunday by saying, “Adobo!”
“My mother helping out, she did a solid for me,” Logan said. “She kind of stole the show in the commercial.”
In Simsbury, Logan campaigned with Mike Paine, a former selectman and prominent businessman trying to win a state House seat that’s been held for a decade by John Hampton, a conservative Democrat not seeking another term.
As is his habit, Logan carried a lawn sign that serves as an oversized calling card and an impromptu shelter during a light rain. Logan’s opening lines are about inflation, making Connecticut affordable, and crime.
“You got my vote — both you guys,” Sean Hughes told them, pausing from clearing leaves off his front lawn. He is a Republican.
Logan and Paine were joined by Themis Klarides, the former state House Republican leader who lost a U.S. Senate primary to Leora Levy in August.
Down the hill, an unaffiliated voter named Bob Alesio quizzed Logan on education policy and Logan’s support for school choice, back-to-basics education and a greater say for parents in schools.
“When I get out to the suburbs, parents feel like they have less say about what’s going on in school with the kids. Those are the areas I want to focus on, like, the concept of school choice,” Logan said.
“You said school choice. What do you mean?” Alesio asked.
“Money follows the child,” Logan replied, meaning allowing the use of public funds to allow a child to leave an assigned school system for a charter school or private school.
Alesio said he was undecided about how he would vote.
Campaigning in Collinsville, a Democratic section of Canton, voters recognized him when he stopped in a deli, complimenting his commercials. Outside, a woman stopped her car in an intersection to greet him.
Outside an 1800s Victorian, Logan called out to a startled teenager. He disappeared and his parents appeared, shook Logan’s hand and promised their votes.
But twice, his self-introduction and quick rap about attacking inflation was poorly received.
“What do you think?” he asked one homeowner.
“You don’t want to know,” said the man, who offered alliterative adjectives for that go with Republican, beginning with “repugnant.”
Logan was unfazed. He smiled and promised to do his best to represent the man if elected.
Another man coldly said, “You came to the wrong door.”
In Farmington, Logan campaigned with Joe Capodiferro, a Realtor and retired police officer challenging state Rep. Mike Demicco, a Democrat in office for 10 years. Capodiferro was Farmington police officer for 26 years.
“My opponent voted for the anti-police bill,” Logan said at one door on hill top neighborhood near the UConn Health Center. “I voted against it in the state legislature.”
The man shook his head.
Logan was referring to Hayes’ vote for a police accountability bill that passed the House, then stalled in the Senate. He voted against a state version that became law in Connecticut.
Both bills were proposed as America reeled from seeing the video of three police officers in Minneapolis standing idly while a fourth knelt on the neck of a Black man, George Floyd, killing him.
Frank Castro, a retired Hartford firefighter and judicial marshal, welcomed Capodiferro and Logan, describing himself as a “lifelong Democrat” who thinks the party has gone astray.
He wished them well.
“We’re feeling good,” Logan told him. “We’re feeling momentum.”
The complicated 5th District
The 5th District has remained in Democratic hands for 16 years since Murphy flipped the seat in 2006 and defeated longtime GOP Rep. Nancy Johnson. And for most of that time, Connecticut’s congressional delegation has been all blue. This year, Logan could break that streak.
Limited public polling indicates that the race is a tossup and outside spending, mostly coming from national groups, is at a record high of more than $12 million for the district, according to data compiled by California Target Book.
Hayes and Biden both won the seat by double-digit margins in 2020. But the competitiveness of the 5th District is part of a trend this election cycle showing that Republicans could make gains in Democratic strongholds across New England.
In the last midterm election in 2018 — when Hayes was first elected — Meriden broke for the congresswoman with 59%, compared to her Republican opponent at the time, Manny Santos, with 41%. Santos, meanwhile, narrowly carried Southbury by 50.1%, fewer than 200 votes.
Compared to Meriden, Southbury has an older population with predominantly white voters and is home to a large retirement community, Heritage Village.
Both parties know that in order to win the 5th District — and in many other places in Connecticut — they will need to turn out the biggest bloc of voters: unaffiliated voters.
“That group is up for grabs, and that’s the group we’re trying to communicate with,” said Sharon Sherman, an 81-year-old resident of Woodbury and longtime Democratic voter. “That’s where the vote is.”
The Connecticut Mirror/Connecticut Public Radio federal policy reporter position is made possible, in part, by funding from the Robert and Margaret Patricelli Family Foundation and Engage CT.