This fall, the election many New Haven voters care about most may be one in which they have little impact.
Although Elm City voters are closely watching the presidential election, Connecticut is not expected to be a significant battleground state. In addition, while several local and statewide races will be on the ballot Nov. 2, few will be contested and still fewer are expected to be competitive.
State Rep. Toni Walker, the only member of the eight-member New Haven delegation to the Connecticut General Assembly facing a challenger this year, said she hopes to channel local support for fellow Democrat Sen. John Kerry ’66 into her own campaign — even though both presidential campaigns are largely passing over New Haven and Connecticut.
“What I’m hoping, more than anything, is that we can get into the presidential election,” said Walker, a Democrat. “There are going to be a lot of people who are looking at that race.”
Walker is facing a challenge from Ward 2 Alderwoman Joyce Chen ’01, who is trying to score her second upset of an incumbent Democrat in three years. In 2001, Chen became one of the first two Green Party members elected to the New Haven Board of Aldermen, defeating sitting Alderwoman Linda Townsend-Maier.
Walker said she was surprised that Chen decided to challenge her, given her liberal voting record and focus on the juvenile justice system. Chen, however, said Walker had not done enough to fight for change on issues like campaign finance and the environment.
“You can vote the right way on issues, but if you don’t push for reform … then there is a lot more that you can do,” Chen said.
Chen’s late entrance into the race for state representative may provide one of the city’s only sources of suspense Nov. 2. U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro, a Democrat, is favored to win reelection against Republican businessman Richter Elser ’81 and Green Party member Ralph Ferrucci. Fellow Democrat Sen. Chris Dodd is expected to face little difficulty in his race against Republican Jack Orchulli.
Just as both national parties have paid little attention to either DeLauro’s or Dodd’s seats, neither Republicans nor Democrats have listed Connecticut as one of battleground states that will be most hotly contested in the November presidential election. The state has voted Democratic in every presidential election since 1988, and former Vice President Al Gore won the state by more than 17 percentage points in 2000.
Still, Republicans can point to some hopeful signs. A Quinnipiac University poll last month showed Kerry leading President George W. Bush ’68 by only a seven-point margin. The poll showed 45 percent of likely voters supporting Kerry, 38 percent supporting Bush, and 6 percent supporting independent Ralph Nader, whose campaign announced yesterday it had received enough valid signatures to appear on Connecticut ballots.
Quinnipiac poll director Douglas Schwartz said while the survey showed a significantly tighter race than in June, he was cautious about how significant the shift was.
“It is a snapshot in time, and we’ll have to see how things settle down after Labor Day,” Schwartz said. “Right now, Kerry is still the favorite, but his lead is down from where it was.”
Elser, who also serves as chairman of the New Haven Republican Town Committee, said both Kerry and Bush would be wrong to ignore Connecticut completely.
“More than half the state are unaffiliated voters, and Connecticut voters frequently do not behave according to their registration,” Elser said.
But the degree to which Connecticut is removed from the most hotly contested swing states can be illustrated by a trip to Pennsylvania last month by several New Haven Democrats — including Mayor John DeStefano Jr. — to campaign for Kerry and Edwards. DeStefano said he expected Connecticut to fall safely in Kerry’s column this year, and he and his fellow Democrats wanted to campaign in a state that might be closer in November.
“There’s a level of intensity and attention to this election unlike anything I’ve ever seen before,” DeStefano said.