Nov. 12—In my column two weeks ago, I urged readers to watch results in East Lyme and Norwich for evidence that disgust with the Republican Party nationally was trickling down to impact races even at the local level.
My theory was that some Democrats and unaffiliated moderate voters, who normally would be willing to look past party labels in assessing local candidates, were so disgusted at this point with the state of the GOP that they would be loath to support any Republican. I did not expect this to be a groundswell, but perhaps enough to make a difference in close races, such as those anticipated in East Lyme and Norwich.
Well, the results are in, and leadership positions flipped to Democrats in both those towns. A Republican had held the top position of first selectman in East Lyme since 2007, when Paul Formica defeated an incumbent Democrat for the job. That streak ended Tuesday when Democrat Dan Cunningham narrowly defeated Republican Anne Santoro, 2,747 to 2,654. Both are currently selectmen.
In Norwich, meanwhile, Democrats flipped the City Council from 4-3 Republican to 4-3 in their favor. Republican Mayor Peter A. Nystrom — the seventh vote on the council — is halfway through his term and was not on the ballot.
Anti-Republican feelings may have also played a role in Democratic Selectwoman Martha Shoemaker's election as first selectwoman in Old Lyme, moving the Board of Selectmen into the Democratic column.
There is no way of proving for sure how much anti-Republican feelings were a factor in these outcomes. Local elections do not feature voter exit polls that drill down to assess results. But the circumstantial evidence suggests that the status of the Republican party nationally is hurting the party here in blue Connecticut.
In Danbury, Democrat Roberto Alves unseated Republican incumbent Mayor Dean Esposito, ending more than two decades of Republican control of that office.
What a radicalized GOP can do to the party's election night prospects was in evidence in Derby. In the September primary there a MAGA candidate, Alderman Gino DiGiovanni Jr., defeated incumbent Republican Mayor Richard Dziekan by 10 votes. DiGiovanni faces charges in connection to the Jan. 6, 2021 U.S. Capitol riot. On Tuesday, Democrat Joseph DiMartino easily won the mayoral election in Derby, with DiGiovanni getting only 23% of the vote. Dziekan, who stayed in the race, received 25% of the vote.
Democrats also flipped the top office in Fairfield, of all places, where Bill Gerber beat Republican incumbent first selectwoman Brenda Kupchick by 42 votes. The result is subject to a recount.
Disdain with the Republican brand nationally has already hurt the Connecticut GOP in state races, with Democrats securing dominant control of both the state Senate and the House and winning the last four gubernatorial races.
Republicans win in Connecticut by being moderate on social policies and focusing on such things as law and order, controlling spending, limiting taxation and protecting business from over-regulation. Most Connecticut Republicans take that approach, but they are strapped to a national party that is anti-democratic and extreme.
Donald Trump, the party's national leader and once again its likely presidential candidate, confronts 91 felony charges across four cases involving allegations he broke the law to try to retain power after losing to President Joe Biden in 2020 and illegally maintained classified documents when he left office.
After a small group of hard-right House Republicans ousted their own speaker, the Republican majority spent weeks trying to agree on a successor. In the end they selected Rep. Mike Johnson, infamous for concocting a legal scheme to toss out Biden victories in Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin and keep Trump in office. It is more evidence that the Republican Party, as a matter of policy, is OK with pushing past constitutional protections and promoting baseless conspiracies — lies — if that is what it takes to retain power.
Tuesday's results were another warning that Connecticut Republicans must find a path, and the political courage, to separate themselves from that national brand if they want to compete for more than the small towns, which are the party's last strength. And even that shows signs of slipping.
Some reacted to my prior column by asking why I did not consider how Biden's unpopularity — tied to inflation, high interest rates, problems at the southern border and concerns about his age — could hurt Democratic candidates in the local races.
My assessment was that traditional national issues, such as unhappiness with a president's policies and performance, do not filter down to local races. But radical actions by a major party, like stomping on democracy, can influence local results. And on Tuesday, in my estimation, they did.
Paul Choiniere is the former editorial page editor of The Day, now retired. He can be reached at email@example.com.