Trump blamed for GOP losses

But state party chair­man points out that Dems lost races, too

New Haven Register (New Haven, CT) - - NEWS - By Neil Vig­dor nvig­dor@hearst­medi­act.com; 203-625-4436

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.

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