Up close and per­sonal in 5th Dis­trict

Can­di­dates’ sto­ries res­onate — more or less

Stamford Advocate (Sunday) - - News/From The Front Page - By Rob Ryser rryser@new­stimes.com 203-731-3342

The Oc­to­ber de­bates rep­re­sented Manny San­tos’ best chance to close ground on front-run­ner Ja­hana Hayes by show­ing 5th Dis­trict vot­ers that he too has an in­spir­ing per­sonal story of suc­cess from hum­ble ori­gins.

Go­ing into the de­bates, San­tos said his story of Ma­rine Corps ser­vice and busi­ness achieve­ment as the son of poor im­mi­grant farm­ers from Por­tu­gal was not get­ting any­where near the na­tional at­ten­tion be­ing paid Hayes — who went from be­ing a preg­nant high school dropout to the 2016 Na­tional Teacher of the Year.

How well the GOP’s San­tos shared his story dur­ing three de­bates this month for Con­necti­cut’s only com­pet­i­tive con­gres­sional dis­trict may not be an­swered un­til Nov. 6, when vot­ers in cen­tral and north­west Con­necti­cut de­cide who will re­place three-term Demo­crat El­iz­a­beth Esty.

But if San­tos fell short, one rea­son may be be­cause he didn’t make the per­sonal uni­ver­sal.

“I don’t know how Ja­hana Hayes has been able to make her per­sonal story ev­ery­one’s story,” said Scott McLean, a pro­fes­sor of po­lit­i­cal sci­ence at Quin­nip­iac Univer­sity in Ham­den. “But Manny San­tos hasn’t been able to make his story ev­ery­body’s story.”

For San­tos, a one-term mayor of Meri­den who is run­ning as a Trump Repub­li­can, the need to get his story out to vot­ers is pro­nounced be­cause he can­not match Hayes in cam­paign mo­men­tum or in fundrais­ing.

Hayes has piled on her lead over San­tos, rais­ing $830,000 in the most re­cent five-week re­port­ing pe­riod to San­tos’ $29,000, and spend­ing $580,000 to San­tos’ $18,000. Hayes ran her first 30-sec­ond tele­vi­sion ad last week.

“The chal­lenge for Manny has not changed — he needs to get on the air with some­thing, and to do that, he has to be able to raise the money,” said Mark Boughton, Dan­bury’s long­time GOP mayor who lost the Repub­li­can pri­mary for gov­er­nor in Au­gust. “There is still time, but the win­dow is clos­ing.”

Hayes, a Demo­crat mak­ing her first run for of­fice, is part of a na­tional wave of mi­nor­ity fe­male can­di­dates run­ning as pro­gres­sives. She raised her pro­file by shar­ing her strug­gles grow­ing up in a Water­bury hous­ing project with her grand­mother, be­cause her mother was a drug ad­dict. Hayes earned her de­grees while work­ing as a sin­gle mom and in­cur­ring huge stu­dent debt.

Hayes has made her per­sonal plight re­lat­able in part with so­cial me­dia videos that use vis­ual sto­ry­telling tech­niques to make emo­tional con­nec­tions. For ex­am­ple, her “Truth to Power” video got 10 mil­lion hits and brought in $300,000 in con­tri­bu­tions, her cam­paign said.

The video was re­mark­able not only for its reach but for its mes­sage, a key Hayes sup­porter said.

“In that video she says, ‘When Con­gress starts to look like us, no one can stop us,’ and Manny San­tos ac­cused her of play­ing iden­tity pol­i­tics,” said Ken Cur­ran, the Water­bury Demo­cratic Party chair­man. “But what he is miss­ing is she is iden­ti­fy­ing with ev­ery­body.”

Per­sonal ap­peal

Ob­servers say both can­di­dates have per­sonal ap­peal, even if their per­son­al­i­ties are dis­tinct.

But in Hayes’ story there is more con­ti­nu­ity between the vul­ner­a­bil­ity she ex­pe­ri­enced as a poor mi­nor­ity child and her pro­gres­sive prin­ci­ples for con­stituents in need than there is con­ti­nu­ity in San­tos’ story between the vul­ner­a­bil­ity he ex­pe­ri­enced as a poor im­mi­grant child and his con­ser­va­tive prin­ci­ples of law-and-or­der and per­sonal re­spon­si­bil­ity for con­stituents in need.

The dif­fer­ence may be that Hayes is will­ing to share the tri­als that shaped her char­ac­ter while San­tos is more com­fort­able shar­ing the con­ser­va­tive prin­ci­ples that guide him.

For ex­am­ple, San­tos drew the only boos of the de­bate sea­son on Wednes­day when he told a crowd at Cen­tral Con­necti­cut State Univer­sity in New Bri­tain “The stu­dent debt is­sue is some­thing that frankly a lot of stu­dents bring on them­selves.”

A po­lit­i­cal ob­server said San­tos’ hard line on il­le­gal im­mi­gra­tion, re­peal­ing Oba­macare and op­pos­ing gay mar­riage could be a bar­rier for Democrats and un­af­fil­i­ated vot­ers try­ing to iden­tify with his story.

“While there is a portion of vot­ers in the 5th Dis­trict who would agree with San­tos on those is­sues, his mes­sag­ing has been very dif­fi­cult to lo­cate in this cam­paign,” said Gary Rose, a po­lit­i­cal sci­ence pro­fes­sor and the chair of the Gov­ern­ment, Pol­i­tics and Global Stud­ies de­part­ment at Sa­cred Heart Univer­sity in Fair­field. “I don’t think these de­bates el­e­vated his cam­paign very much.”

H John Voorhees III / Hearst Con­necti­cut Me­dia

Repub­li­can Manny San­tos, right, and Demo­crat Ja­hana Hayes, can­di­dates for the 5th Con­gres­sional Dis­trict in Con­necti­cut, de­bate in Dan­bury on Tues­day.

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