Republicans gain seats in special elections

Building on gains in November’s midterm elections, Republicans picked up one House and one Senate seat during Tuesday’s nine special elections for the state legislature.

With nine seats left open by Democrats tapped to serve in Gov. Dannel Malloy’s administration, Republicans added to the one Senate and 14 House seats they won in November with wins in the 13th Meriden Senate seat and 101st Madison House seat. With Malloy’s proposed $1.5 billion tax hike in the background, Democrats and Republicans alike said Tuesday they were pleased with the results, which do nothing to change the balance of power in Hartford.

House Republican leader Larry Cafero told the Hartford Courant Tuesday night the gains, made from an “underdog” position, bode well for his party.

“We had nothing to lose and everything to gain — and we gained,” he said. “We are ecstatic at our growth. It’s never been done before.”

Democrats still lead the House 99 seats to 52 and the Senate 22 to 14. Last November, Democrats won all nine seats up for grabs in the special elections.

In Meriden, Republican Len Suzio upset Democrat Thomas Bruenn to win a Senate seat that Democrats have held for the past 36 years.

At his Meriden campaign headquarters, Suzio gave a victory speech that acknowledged Malloy’s unpopular proposals, including the $1.5 billion in taxes and calls for $2 billion in union concessions over the next two years.

“The increased tax proposal I think was very big [with voters],” he said. “But let’s roll up our sleeves and get to work tomorrow and get Connecticut back to where it used to be.”

Senate Republican leader John McKinney told the Hartford Courant Tuesday night the Meriden win was particularly important given recent Democratic dominance in the seat.

“We were able to pick off one of them,” he said. “To win one in the Speaker’s hometown is a good win for the party.”

Democrats Terry Gerratana and Carlo Leone won the other two state Senate seats in New Britain and Stamford, respectively.

It was a similar story in the six state House races.

In Madison, Republican Noreen Kokoruda defeated Democrat Joan Walker to take the House seat vacated by Representative Deborah Heinrich, who will serve in Gov. Malloy’s cabinet as an advocate for non-profit organizations.

The Madison seat had been held by Republican Peter Metz until he lost to Heinrich in 2004.

In the other five House races, Democrats Joe Verrengia took West Hartford, Robert Sanchez New Britain, Phillip Miller Chester, James Albis East Haven, and Charlie Stallworth Bridgeport.

House Speaker Christopher Donovan told the Hartford Courant Tuesday night the results reflected positively on the Democrat’s position in the state capital.

“Five out of six in the House. We feel pretty good about that,’’ he said. “Here we have the governor coming out with a tough budget, and the Democrats win.”

Leaders of Yale’s political organizations, like their state counterparts, are satisfied with the special election results.

Marina Keegan ’12, the president of the Yale College Democrats, said she thought the results of the special elections and last November’s elections, in which the state elected its first Democratic governor in 20 years, indicated state Democrats are as strong as ever.

“In the face of Gov. Malloy’s proposed tax increases, I think the fact the Democrats held onto 5 of the 6 house seats is a testament to the power of Democratic ideals holding strong,” she said.

She added that the results thwarted Republican expectations to pick up more seats.

President of the Yale College Republicans Trevor Wagener ’12 said the results reflected the state’s concern about its fiscal situation. Legislators in Hartford currently face a $3.7 billion budget deficit.

“Connecticut is by and large a blue state,” he said. “So it’s especially worth noting that in a blue state, Republicans can win special elections because people are very worried about the state’s finances.”

Still, anecdotes from the polls showed that voter-turnout for the special elections was very low, said Av Harris, the director of communications for Secretary of the State Denise Merrill.

Harris said special elections typically get lower turnouts than general or presidential elections, averaging around 20 percent of the voting population. He anticipated numbers similar to this figure, but said hard figures would not be available until today.

“It’s school vacation week. It’s the day after President’s Day. It’s the middle of the winter,” Harris said. “In seats where it’s not a really competitive race it [voter turnout] could be as low as 12 percent.”

The next general election will take place Nov. 6, 2012.

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