Democrats made substantial progress in November, reclaiming numerous state and local government seats long held by Republicans. This phenomenon is due largely to an unprecedented level of enthusiasm among Democratic voters eager to voice to their opposition to President Donald Trump, according to a pair of local candidates, who witnessed the effect firsthand.
The incendiary nature of national politics in the Trump era trickled down to the local level in Fairfield, Conn., where Democrats routed their opponents, garnering a 23 to 17 majority on the Representative Town Meeting (RTM), a hold over term from the days of early New England government that translates to town council.
Alex Plitsas, a Republican RTM candidate for Fairfield’s 7th district, told The Daily Caller News Foundation that Trump’s influence on local elections throughout Connecticut was unmistakable.
“How do you know that’s just not an excuse for poor performance? Well, one, it wasn’t a couple of candidates, it was Republicans across the board. We weren’t just beaten, we were annihilated at the polls,” he said. “Second, in many of these local races, including several in my town, there were Democrats on the ballot who literally didn’t campaign, I mean did nothing. No signs, no advertising, no door-to-door, no engagements with people, nothing, who won or came very close to winning.”
Pam Iacono, a Republican RTM candidate for Fairfield’s 8th district, described the phenomenon as force of nature that herself and her fellow Republicans found themselves powerless to stop.
“We got caught up in what I call the Trump Tsunami,” Iacono told TheDCNF. “We did a good job getting our base out but it wasn’t enough because the people who came out to vote were the angry voters, who were upset with the Trump administration. They wanted to send a message and they did, in droves.”
“I ran candidate recruitment,” she said. “I know in speaking with a lot of the other candidates, there were people that were approached and said I like you but I can’t vote for you because you’re a Republican and I don’t like Donald Trump.”
Plitsas, a combat veteran and former Pentagon official, explained that anti-Trump sentiment seemed to hold sway over the electorate, despite the fact that the highest office on any ballot in the state was that of mayor.
“Without an executive, these elections were truly about local issues. Nobody was running on an anti-Trump or pro-Trump platform,” Plitsas told TheDCNF. Traditionally close races were not even close. Democrats were out in droves. In some cases 25 to 30 percent more Democrats than Republican voters turned out.”
Plitsas illustrated the momentum enjoyed by Democratic candidates, pointing out that many won or came very close to winning, despite a noticeable lack of campaigning relative to their Republican opponents.
“In one case the board of finance chairman in our town, who is very well known, who’s been in office for a number of years, spent a lot of money, was out there going door-to-door speaking to everybody, he only won by 50 votes against a guy who didn’t campaign,” he said. “Quite frankly you could’ve had Mickey Mouse on the ballot; as long as it had a ‘D’ next to it, the guy won.”
The finance board race perfectly encapsulated the Trump phenomenon, Iacono said. Incumbent Republican incumbent Chris Dewitt ran against a virtually unknown Democratic challenger, Chris Skoczen, who almost won despite a total lack of campaigning.
“This is a man that’s a newcomer to politics in Fairfield and we don’t even know what he looks like because he never even showed up at a debate,” Iacono said.
Skozcen declined to comment when contacted by the DCNF.
Many rightly think of Connecticut as deeply blue; however, the assumption betrays the state’s socioeconomic diversity, a factor that has traditionally become evident in local elections.
“They came out in droves, I mean we were slaughtered and this was across the state. I’m talking some of the most conservative towns in the state. These are big money Republican towns on the southwestern side,” Plitsas said. “And there were some towns where the entire town council was swept pure, straight Democratic across the board. I mean we lost a seat in town in an area that hasn’t voted Democrat in over 100 years.”
Plitsas explained that, except for the “gold coast” — the four or five towns on the New York border largely populated by bankers — Connecticut actually has “the economy of West Virginia.”
“Our state is amongst richest in the nation but has the highest per capita debt,” he said.
As the state’s deficit nears $2 billion and its pension funds teeter on the edge of the collapse, progressives have attacked the state as a microcosm of American inequality, while conservatives cite it as an example of the failures of a progressive tax system.
Some 30,000 residents and scores of companies have fled the state since former Republican Gov. Jodi Rell raised the top rate on individuals earning $500,000 or more to 6.5 percent in 2009, The Wall Street Journal editorial board reported in April.
Democratic incumbent Heather Dean, who won the election in Fairfield’s 3rd district, credited the strength of the various Democratic candidates and Trump’s presidency as factors in the outcome.
“We won the election in part because we had excellent candidates who worked exceptionally hard during the campaign and in part because of President Trump and his administration,” Dean told TheDCNF.
Iacono cited the Republican Party’s record over the past few years in Fairfield as further evidence that their defeat was the result of the so-called “Trump tsunami.” Republicans, having been in the majority on the RTM and the town finance board, kept taxes static at 1.6 percent with no reduction in services, she said.
Ultimately, Iacono and Plitsas argued, their race was a reflection on the Trump administration and there was nothing they could have done to counteract the resulting Democratic fervor.
“We’re trying to do a post mortem and you sit back and think what you could have done differently and you try to critique your own campaign but … with the campaigning maxed out, there’s literally nothing left to do at that point. We just got the pants beaten off of us,” Plitsas said.
The election results don’t bode well for the future of the Republican Party in Connecticut, according to Plitsas.
“The ramifications of that…it’s scaring off candidates and candidate recruitment, its scaring off donors and its emboldening the Democrats,” he said.
Editor’s Note: One quote was updated to reflect Plitsas said voters “came out in droves.”
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