HARTFORD — Republican incumbent M. Jodi Rell defeated New Haven Mayor John DeStefano Jr. in Connecticut’s gubernatorial election Tuesday, burying her opponent by a margin of almost 30 percent of the vote.

With 79 percent of precincts reporting, Rell received 64 percent of votes to DeStefano’s 35 percent. While DeStefano’s supporters said they were disappointed with the mayor’s defeat, most said they think he will continue to serve as mayor of New Haven.

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Before a crowd of 250 supporters at her campaign headquarters in Hartford, Rell said she was grateful to have won the election with what she said were positive and honest tactics, citing her campaign’s decision to take the “high road” and not run any advertisements attacking her opponent.

“You have to live with yourself after the campaign,” Rell said. “I have to live with the citizens of Connecticut.”

Rell said that her priorities in her new term will be to work on the state budget and focus on education and transportation initiatives.

Many media outlets called the election in Rell’s favor as soon as polls closed at 8 p.m., but DeStefano waited until 10 p.m. to concede the race.

In a speech before a crowd of over 100 supporters at Hula Hanks nightclub on Crown St. in New Haven, an emotional DeStefano — surrounded by his family, running-mate Mary Glassman and Lt. Governor Kevin Sullivan — conceded defeat to Rell. But he said the issues raised by his campaign, such as universal health care, will continue to dominate state politics.

“[Rell] has earned the right to our support for the next four years,” DeStefano said. “But our ideals, our values, they still stand strong.”

While Rell’s margin of victory was large in the state as a whole, DeStefano took 64 percent of votes in New Haven, with 87 percent of precincts reporting results.

DeStefano did not say whether he would run for governor again — saying “That is not anything I’m thinking about right now” — but seemed to suggest in his speech that he would seek another term as New Haven’s mayor.

“I look forward to working together on the challenges and opportunities of this community for years to come,” he said. “For my part, this campaign is the hardest thing I have ever done, but it has given far more back to me, and for that, I leave this campaign much richer in character.”

DeStefano’s defeat yesterday marked the end of a three-year campaign that raised a record $5.6 million and the most endorsements of any gubernatorial candidate in the history of the state. DeStefano’s campaign spokesman Derek Slap said the campaign faced an uphill battle from the start because they were running against an incumbent. Slap also said the campaign was in the shadow of the high-profile Senate race between Ned Lamont SOM ’80 and Sen. Joseph Lieberman ’64 LAW ’67.

But many Rell supporters said the incumbent governor’s positive campaign won her the election. Rell’s campaign staff said the governor’s clean campaign was especially important in light of the massive corruption scandal that tainted former Governor John Rowland’s administration and landed Rowland in jail for his corruption. DeStefano had been criticized for accepting campaign contributions from contractors doing business with New Haven.

“[Rell] provided a sense of respect and dignity that Connecticut residents craved,” supporter Brian Armstrong said. “DeStefano ran a negative campaign, and Rell ran an extremely classy campaign.”

Slap said he is unsure if Rell’s victory will significantly alter the current dynamic in Hartford, where the state legislature remains heavily Democratic.

“The governor has gone along and hasn’t gotten in a ton of fights with the legislature up to now,” he said.

Board of Aldermen President Carl Goldfield said he is disappointed with DeStefano’s defeat, but hopes he continues to serve as mayor of New Haven.

“I am sure [DeStefano] will run as mayor again, and I am sure he will win because he has done a terrific job, and I am sure the people will recognize it,” he said. “He had a lot of imaginative ideas and recognized the problems.”

This will mark Rell’s first full term in office after she succeeded Rowland, who was removed from office in 2004 for corruption. Connecticut has not had a Democratic governor since 1991.