As polls closed last night, the Democratic party had won the majority of seats in the House of Representatives, picking up at least one additional Democratic seat in Connecticut.
The state’s five congressional races, three of which were competitive, yielded one upset by a Democratic challenger, two victories by Democratic incumbents, one win by a Republican incumbent, and a fifth outcome that was too close to call. Democrat Chris Murphy defeated Republican incumbent Nancy Johnson — the longest-serving congressional representative in state history — in a toss-up election in Connecticut’s fifth district. Republican incumbent Chris Shays narrowly defeated Democrat Diane Farrell in the state’s fourth congressional district. At press time, the race in the second district remained undecided, with Democratic challenger Joe Courtney leading Republican Bob Simmons by a slim 200-vote margin. Democratic incumbent Rep. John Larson easily held the state’s first district, while Rep. Rosa DeLauro, who represents New Haven, held the state’s third district by a substantial margin.
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In his victory speech to supporters, Murphy said his win was the realization of a dream that most considered unlikely.
“The impossible is never impossible,” Murphy said. “For the rest of your lives, do not let anyone tell you that a thing cannot be done.”
Murphy defeated Johnson by a margin of 56 to 44 percent. His campaign ads attacked Johnson for accepting financial support from pharmaceutical companies and sponsoring what Murphy called confusing Medicare legislation.
Johnson, in her concession speech, thanked her constituents for the opportunity to serve them for so long, calling it an “extraordinary privilege” to represent them for twelve two-year terms.
Although official election results have not been announced, Shays spokeswoman Sarah Moore said at midnight that their campaign estimated a 2.2 percent, or 4,400-vote, margin of victory.
With election results still up in the air, Courtney spoke to his supporters around midnight, reassuring them that the close race in the second district did not portend defeat.
“He’s optimistic,” said Courtney spokesperson Brian Harbar. “He encouraged his supporters. I’d say he feels pretty good about his position right now.”
With three highly competitive elections for the House of Representatives, Connecticut’s congressional races attracted the attention of the national media. Florida was the only other state with as many as three hotly contested congressional elections.
Yale College Democrats President Brendan Gants ’08 said he thought Republican policies on Iraq, energy and education played a big role in bringing voters to the polls. Lack of Republican support for more student financial aid, he said, might have been an extra inducement for Yale voters to turn out.
“Iraq has been a big motivating factor for people,” Gants said. “I think Americans have realized there are a lot of issues the Republicans and the administration haven’t done enough for, and it’s time for a change.”
The Yale College Democrats registered 350 new voters at Yale this year through voter registration drives which club members said were non-partisan in outreach.
President of the Yale College Republicans Alex Yergin ’07 called the early congressional election results “disappointing.” He said his organization — which is in the process of rebuilding itself and increasing membership — had sent its members out canvassing and campaigning, particularly to support Republican incumbent Christopher Shays in the contested fourth congressional district.
Gants said both campaigns were “spirited” and praised the high voter turnout in Connecticut as good for both the democratic process and the Democratic Party.
“I think one reason the [national] Democrats are doing so well lately is that after losing two election cycles, they have seen a need to redouble their efforts,” Gants said.
But Whitney Fogg ‘08, vice president of events for the Yale College Republicans, said the election results — though not what the Republicans had hoped for — might benefit the party in the long run. Losing the Republican majority in the House, she said, could be a wake-up call for the Republicans.
The Yale Law Democrats helped the Connecticut Democratic Party, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, and the three competitive Democratic House campaigns run their coordinated voter protection program yesterday. Peter Harrell, co-chair of the Yale Law Democrats, said the organization’s Election Day efforts enlisted the help of over 50 law students from Yale, Quinnipiac, and the University of Connecticut and focused on precincts that faced voting irregularities in the past.
“There was nothing on the level of what you might have seen in the 2000 election in Florida, but there were issues with some polling stations that had posted signs saying voters needed ID, which is not true in Connecticut,” Harrell said. “In the end we got the Connecticut Secretary of State [Susan Bysiewicz] to have those removed.”
Harrell said students observed other voting irregularities, including breakdowns of new voting machines based on optical scanning technology, polling stations that illegally prohibited voters from bringing in fliers listing candidates’ names, and handicap-accessible polling stations in elderly neighborhoods that did not advertise how handicapped voters should enter the building. He said most of these issues tended to arise in neighborhoods heavily populated by minorities.
Charlotte Martin, William Schmidt and Justin Stone contributed to this article.