New Haven Republicans number are so few in number that their website’s banner assures visitors, “Yes, there is such a group.” Nevertheless, they may play a crucial role in deciding the outcome of the 2014 gubernatorial election.
Governor Dannel Malloy eked out a 7,000 vote victory over Republican Tom Foley in 2010 partly due to strong support in Bridgeport and New Haven, where Malloy received seven times as many votes as Foley. This November, the Republican candidate could close the gap and defeat Malloy simply by turning out 600 additional supporters in each major urban area, including New Haven.
Republican Town Committee chairman Richter Elser said the GOP is facing an uphill battle against the Democratic Party’s strength in the Elm City — but it’s a battle the party needs to fight in order to win the race.
“All the candidates realize that they may not be able to carry the cities, but they have to do better in the cities,” Elser said. “The viable candidates have to find a way to convince people in the cities to consider voting for them.”
In New Haven, Republican candidates are working against the strength of the Democratic Party’s organization and challenging statistical realities. Data compiled by the New Haven Registrar of Voters shows there were over 50,000 registered Democrats as of February 2014, but just over 2,500 registered Republicans. There are an additional 19,000 unaffiliated voters.
Elser said Foley and Senate minority leader John McKinney have attended meetings of the town committee and held fundraisers in the city, and fellow Republican candidate and Danbury mayor Mark Boughton has visited.
Chris Cooper, a spokesman for the Foley campaign, said urban issues are a crucial part of Foley’s platform, as demonstrated by Foley’s decision to announce that he was appointing a committee to explore a gubernatorial bid in Bridgeport last September. Cooper said he believes urban voters will be particularly responsive to Foley’s plans for the economy, an issue that has dominated the race so far.
Cooper acknowledged that success in urban areas is dependent upon appealing to independents and some Democrats and then getting them to the polls.
“Tom will take no vote for granted, that’s for sure,” Cooper said. “I have to say that it’s primarily just a numbers game.”
Andy Ross, a Republican who ran for alder in Ward 8 as an independent in November, said Democratic organization and manpower in New Haven is formidable. While his campaign had about seven regular volunteers, he believes his Democratic opponent, Aaron Greenberg GRD ’18, had around 50.
Ross said he thinks Republican gubernatorial candidates are making a strong effort to appeal to voters in New Haven, but need to do more to present a convincing case to those 19,000 unaffiliated voters and overcome the natural Democratic advantages in the city.
“To be a Democrat, you don’t have to quit your job,” Ross said. “You just kind of hang out your shingle and say, ‘I’m running as a Democrat,’ and the machine takes over the rest.”
Elser said the town committee was planning to hold fundraisers and phone banking events and organize canvassing for the Republican candidate once he or she is selected at the state convention in mid-May.
Austin Schaefer ’15, president of the Yale College Republicans, who are less involved in local politics than their Democratic counterparts because Republicans contest far fewer local races, said the group is eager to get involved in the gubernatorial campaign. In the past, Yale College Republicans have worked on statewide races, such as Linda McMahon’s 2012 Senate run.
Earlier this year, the organization hosted a fundraiser for gubernatorial candidate Tom Foley at The Russian Lady, a bar downtown.
Elser said he thinks even a 5 percent increase in Republican turnout in New Haven could make a difference in the race.
Gary Rose, chair of the Department of Government and Politics at Sacred Heart University, said he thinks Elser’s goal might be too high because of the tiny number of Republicans in the city.
One factor that will benefit Republicans, however, is the timing of the election. Because 2014 is a midterm election year, the absence of a motivating Democratic candidate at the top of the ticket will likely depress urban turnout. Demographics that swing Republican are more likely to vote in midterms.
“It’s going to be a whiter electorate, an older electorate, a more male electorate,” Rose said. “And those are all Republicans.”
The Democratic and Republican nominating conventions will both take place on May 16.