What Should Dems Learn From Their Loss In Connecticut Tuesday?

Last Tuesday, the Republicans flipped an open "blue" seat red. That's the headline. But it distorts reality. Connecticut's 36th Senate district is a wealthy suburban area that includes Greenwich, North Stamford, Mianus and parts of Stamford and New Canaan. When Alex Kasser was first elected in the 2018 Democratic wave-- in a 600 vote upset over GOP incumbent Scott Franz-- she became the first Democrat to represent the district since 1930. That's not exactly a blue district.

Last year Kassner was reelected over Ryan Fazio, 29,137 to 27,575. And on June 22, she announced online that she's gay, in the midst of a contentious divorce, that she and her lover are moving out of the district and that she was resigning as a state senator.

A socially liberal, fiscally conservative Democrat, attorney Alexis Gevanter decided to run for the seat, as did the 2016 Democratic nominee, John Blankley, who ran as an independent. The Republicans ran Fazio again. This is what happened in Tuesday's extraordinarily low turnout election:

  • Ryan Fazio- 8,911 (50.1%)

  • Alexis Gevanter- 8,459 (47.6%)

  • John Blankley- 408 (2.3%)

That shows a slightly better turnout for Republicans than for Democrats-- in a race without a progressive. The media has turned that into an ominous warning for Democrats running in 2022. Reid Wilson's post of The Hill, for example, was titled Democrats sound alarm over loss in Connecticut suburbs. It was a narrow win by a Republican with name recognition against an uninspiring Democrat with no name recognition in a traditionally Republican district. The Republican base turned out; Democrats didn't.

Blake Reinken, Gevanter’s campaign manager, claims he sees "a preview of what may be coming in 2021 and 2022, and I just want to warn other Democrats just to not take anything for granted. Now that Trump is gone for the most part, we have to fight double as hard to make sure that we protect our gains. The fact that this seat that Biden won by about 20 points should be scaring people... In a very educated place and a very socially liberal place, we connected [Fazio] to Trump and we connected them to these issues and they didn’t have to run from it as much as we’d think."

[S]ome special elections in recent years have foretold of trouble ahead: Two special elections in May 1994, in which Republicans won ancestrally Democratic seats in Oklahoma and Kentucky, were a preview of the Republican wave that swept Democrats out of control for the first time in 40 years. Two special elections in May 2008 when Democrats won deep-red seats in Mississippi and Louisiana hinted at the blue wave that would accompany Obama into office.
Biden won office, and Democrats saved control of the House in 2020, on the strength of his performance in suburban areas not unlike Greenwich. The narrow Democratic majority in the House means the party can ill afford any slippage in those neighborhoods.
"We need to get our base fired up," Reinken said. "We can’t be afraid to admit that we’re on defense, in some ways. If you don’t acknowledge the problem, it never gets addressed."

Getting the Democratic base fired up might mean not nominating candidates like Alexis Gevanter who promise to work to abolish the estate tax if elected. That's a Republican position and voters who agree with it, already had someone to vote for-- and they did.