Trump blamed for GOP losses
But state party chairman points out that Dems lost races, too
Connecticut voters defied the adage that all politics is local in Tuesday’s municipal elections, favoring Democrats in key races across the state in what insiders on both the left and right interpreted as a repudiation of Donald Trump.
Republicans lost their grip on 22 municipalities under their control, while flipping seven blue communities red. That’s a net loss of 15 cities and towns for the GOP, which two years ago was the party in power in about 97 of the state’s 169 municipalities.
The number includes town councils that act as a de facto first selectman or mayor. Trumbull and Newtown, where the GOP incumbents Tim Herbst and Pat Llodra did not seek re-election, went Democrat.
GOP candidates in traditional Republican strongholds such as New Canaan and Greenwich further underperformed historic benchmarks. And in Fairfield, Republicans lost control of the Representative Town Meeting.
The surge of grassroots opposition to Trump had a sobering effect on local Republican leaders, some of whom acknowledged the president was a drag on the party’s candidates.
It mirrored the results in gubernatorial contests in New Jersey and Virginia, where Democrats prevailed. Heading into the 2018 midterm election and governor’s race, some in the GOP said, that’s a troubling trend.
“At the end of the day, Trump was definitely a factor,” said Jamie Millington, Fairfield’s Republican Town Committee chairman. “We understand there are many people that are upset with Donald Trump. There’s nothing on the local level we can do about it. Federal politics will be what they are.”
A number of GOP stalwarts reported weaker turnout by the party’s base. Republicans make up the smallest bloc of the electorate in Connecticut after unaffiliated voters and Democrats, who say they have been waiting an entire year for redemption after Trump’s election.
“I think probably the night Trump won, I decided we need to do something and get involved,” said Ashley Gaudiano, a first-time Democratic candidate for the Town Council in Trumbull who was victorious.
It was a banner night for Democrats in Trumbull, who put Vicki Tesoro into office as first selectman after eight years of GOP rule under Herbst. The incumbent opted to forgo running for re-election to focus on his bid for governor.
The pendulum also swung on the Town Council, going from a 15 to 6 GOP majority to an 11 to 10 edge for Democrats.
Like many newcomers to local politics, Gaudiano, 30, traveled to Washington, D.C., in January to participate in the Women’s March. She is on the national board of RISE Stronger, a Trump resistance group. She is also a member of the Action Together Network, another organization borne out of last year’s presidential race.
“The tone of Trumbull’s politics mirrored what’s happening at the national level,” Gaudiano said.
Connecticut’s top Republican rejected the idea that his party’s candidates were swept away by what one Fairfield GOP stalwart termed as the “Trump tsunami,” however.
“I know Democrats want to pretend this is about a national narrative,” said J.R. Romano, the state GOP chairman. “It seems as though in wealthier towns where people don’t care about taxes going up, Democrats were able to rally their base. But in towns that are struggling like Derby and Norwich, Republicans won handily.”
Romano is a native of Derby, where incumbent Democrat Anita Dugatto was upset by Republican Richard “Zeke” Dziekan in the mayor’s race. The smallest city in Connecticut, population 12,903, Derby is in the heart of the Naugatuck Valley, the industrial spine of the state that overwhelmingly voted for Trump last year.
Victories by Republicans Mark Boughton and Erin Stewart in the Danbury and New Britain mayors’ races were a source of bragging rights for Romano, who said the GOP held onto the mayor’s office in Stratford.
“Every town is different,” Romano said. “How could you argue in Fairfield it’s a tsunami, but in Stratford it wasn’t?”
State Democratic Chairman Nick Balletto relished the pick-ups by his party, which he said has been deluged with new activists in the past year.