The gulf between New Haven’s powerful Democratic party and its fledgling Republican counterpart was only as wide as Chapel Street last night. But the two camps might as well have been in different states.
By the end of the night, Democratic incumbent U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro coasted to victory in Connecticut’s 3rd Congressional District election. With 99 percent of precincts reporting, DeLauro won 66 percent of the vote, easily beating Republican challenger Richter Elser ’81 and Green Party candidate Charles Pillsbury ’72, who garnered 30 and 5 percent respectively.
At Tibwin Grill, an upscale restaurant owned by Elser, a small band of campaign loyalists sat in silence around a makeshift office table as volunteers from each ward called in vote counts. One by one, the numbers were written on a chart posted on the wall — a loss in Bethany, then in Milford.
With journalists gathered nearby, Elser and his staff tried to stay positive. But the only real moment of cheer came when the radio announced that Jeb Bush had won re-election in Florida’s gubernatorial race.
“Well, that’s a relief!” one supporter said.
Down the block at the Shubert Theater, Democrats’ cause for celebration was closer to home. DeLauro, a six-term incumbent, maintained a steady lead over her two challengers throughout the race. With virtually every local election appearing to favor the Democrats, a large crowd of party supporters mingled beneath a barrage of balloons, enjoying complimentary artichoke and chevre kisses and bruschetta. The positive results from each ward flashed onto a large display screen.
“This job is about giving our community a voice,” DeLauro told the cheering crowd. “Each term that has been my mission and thanks to this vote tonight it will be my mission for two more years!”
With a seventh term ensured, DeLauro will face another election next week, this time for chairwoman of the Democratic National Caucus. She already serves as assistant to Democratic Minority Leader Richard Gephardt and a member of the Appropriations Committee.
In her victory speech, she promised to support wider access to health care and, for senior citizens, a prescription drug benefit and the right to a “secure and dignified retirement.”
Yalies turned out in large numbers to vote in the midterm election. Ward 1, with its polling station at Dwight Hall, reported 367 DeLauro votes, 72 for Elser and 112 for Pillsbury.
“Rosa is a great leader for Yale students,” Ward 1 Alderman Ben Healey ’04 said. “We didn’t have to work for her. Rosa inspired students on her own.”
At a campaign stop at the Martin Luther King School polling station on Dixwell Avenue earlier in the evening, Pillsbury cited his campaign’s additional triumphs outside the voter booth. He said that the challenge from the left forced DeLauro into voting against the war in Iraq and endorsing universal health care. Pillsbury left the Democratic party last year to protest what he called the party’s acquiescence to the war on terrorism and attack of Afghanistan.
Pillsbury said he had no regrets about joining the Green Party.
“I feel right at home,” he said.
Elser’s restaurant, on the other hand, will soon be out of a home. Confident of his chances for victory, the Republican challenger did not renew the lease on Tibwin Grill when it came up for renewal recently. Sunday will be New Haven residents’ final chance to enjoy the restaurant’s famed weekend brunch, where an Eggs New Haven Benedict costs $9 and wearing pajamas earns a customer a 15 percent discount.
“I took a gamble,” said Elser, recounting his decision. He said he will definitely be a candidate again in two years. But when asked about his short-term plans, the candidate retained his customary optimism.
“That’s what we’ll be sorting out tonight,” he said before all the numbers came in.
Elser’s face had covered a lot of distance since Thursday, when his campaign hired a moving billboard company to drive his visage around the district for 10 hours each day. On election day, the billboard hit 24 towns. Elser himself, who traveled separately, only made it to 17.
Still, Elser’s field director Mike Kutniewski noted that the campaign almost certainly started a new trend.
“I think you are going to see a lot of these in a few years,” Kutniewski said of the moving billboard.