While politics should never drive our response to a public health crisis, it is also true that elections, campaigns and political efforts do not simply stop during this difficult time.
In this DFER CT Playbook edition, we will cover what will happen in this year’s presidential primary, how the legislative races are shaping up during this health crisis, and how campaigning might change under these difficult circumstances.
On November 3, 2020, the country will be electing a President, and in Connecticut, all five members of our Congressional delegation and every state legislative district will be decided once again by voters.
Democrats for Education Reform CT has consistently built support for Connecticut’s elected education champions, and, in each of the last seven election cycles, has taken a lead by investing in the races that have solidified Democratic majorities. Through our work, we have consistently focused on a leadership strategy in our electoral efforts, strengthening Democrats in order to shape policy with large majorities. These decisive majorities have enabled legislative leadership to shepherd critical priorities on behalf of students—such as reforming the ECS funding formula to be more progressive and transparent, adding necessary resources for increased public school options for families, promoting equity and measuring progress using data, diversifying our teaching workforce, protecting the civil rights of students, and ensuring better options for all families in all communities.
In December 2019, we conducted an issue survey to inform leaders about the public’s 2020 legislative priorities. However, with so much economic uncertainty today, our work on behalf of disadvantaged students becomes more urgent than ever. Electing and supporting leaders willing to address these challenges for students and our state will be the priority.
To that end, DFER CT has invested in GOTV efforts over several election cycles to minimize down ballot dropoff and turn out infrequent voters at the polls. Through tactics like geographic targeting (i.e. college campuses), digital advertising, and text messaging—we’ve been able to consistently support candidates who are champions of education and help build a bench of new leaders.
Connecticut’s Presidential Primary
Connecticut’s Presidential Primary has been postponed to June 2nd and very likely will be postponed beyond that. When the Connecticut primary does occur, Democrats will cast their ballots for either former Vice President Joe Biden or Senator Bernie Sanders. While the result of the Democratic nomination is no longer in question, Senator Sanders remains on the ballot and can accumulate delegates and Standing Committee members to influence the rules and platform of the convention.
Although the November election date hasn’t changed, there is much discussion about the way in which we will operate our elections this fall. In 2014, Connecticut rejected an amendment to the constitution to allow for “no-excuse absentee balloting,” making it harder for voters to cast their ballots by mail. However, in this public health emergency, there has been a resurgence of support for “vote-by-mail,” including from Governor Lamont who has indicated that this would be his preference for the Democratic Primary. It remains unclear whether the Governor will have the statutory authority to make the change for the General Election. In Congress, Democratic leaders are advocating for broader voting measures to be enacted, as well as new funding to be allocated that would allow for voting by mail nationwide. This discussion follows the chaos that ensued when the Wisconsin and United States Supreme Court prohibited Wisconsin voters from exercising their right to vote safely, requiring them to vote in person this past week.
Connecticut House and State Elections
Looking ahead to the 2021 legislative session, House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz will be retiring, ushering in a new leadership team. While leadership votes won’t take place until after Election Day, we anticipate that the General Assembly will be led by legislators representing Connecticut’s largest and most diverse cities.
Typically, at this point in the legislative session, we would be tracking announcements for reelection campaigns or retirements. But with the General Assembly recessed until at least April 23rd and many DTCs limiting their interactions, we are relying on public announcements and insider intel to assess the open seats this fall.
Democrats currently control the House of Representatives with a 91-60 majority and the State Senate with a 22-14 majority. Thus far, we have seen six retirements in the State House (four Republicans, two Democrats) and one in the State Senate, including Speaker of the House Joe Aresimowicz (D) and Senate Minority Leader Len Fasano (R).
State House Retirements:
30: Joe Aresimowicz (D - Berlin, Southington)
33: Joe Serra (D - Middletown)
108: Rich Smith (R - New Fairfield, Sherman, New Milford, Danbury)
111: John Frey (R - Ridgefield)
143: Gail Lavielle (R - Norwalk, Westport, Wilton)
149: Livvy Floren (R - Greenwich, Stamford)
State Senate Retirements:
34: Len Fasano (R)
Three of these in-play House districts saw election results of less than a 5% margin in 2018 (30, 111, 143) and therefore could be competitive districts. And the 149th district, which has been represented by Livvy Floren (who ran unopposed in 2018) for nearly twenty years, is in a part of the state that has been trending Democratic since Donald Trump ran for President in 2016. The State Senate Race to replace Senator Fasano, who served for 18 years in his seat, has already drawn interest from two sitting state representatives, Rep. Craig Fishbein (R-Wallingford) and Rep. Joe Zullo (R-East Haven).
The Democratic state convention will be held on May 9 this year, at which point State Central Committee members and DNC members will be elected, and the State Democratic Party rules will be adopted. The State House and State Senate conventions will be held on their regularly scheduled days in May, although almost certainly will happen virtually. Once those conventions are held, we will begin to see candidates apply for their public financing, and we will have a more complete sense of the state field.
COVID-19 Impact on Elections
There is no clear roadmap yet as to how elections will be conducted this fall, so campaigns will have to be nimble and use their resources strategically. Public opinion remains fluid in the face of new daily challenges, but we anticipate that the government’s preparedness/response to this public health emergency and economic anxieties will be important factors to voters on both a state and federal level.
There is no doubt that the way in which a field program is operated will be different. At present, canvass programs across the country are shut down, and campaigns are focusing their efforts on digital organizing, phones, and text messaging. We expect that paid media will be critical to getting one’s message out, particularly through digital, direct mail, and possibly radio (online and traditional). With stay home orders still in place, candidates will get a late start on person-to-person campaigning—if at all. That is why we expect that the power of incumbency will be critical. As challengers struggle to build their name recognition, elected officials will continue to communicate to their voters through their official responses to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Here in the state, strong Democratic victories in 2018 and the majorities built in both our legislative chambers have positioned our Party to remain in control of the State House. But with so much uncertainty as we head into this November, we as Democrats need to activate our base, GOTV in all districts, and ensure we do not take these majorities for granted.