This election day, residents of Connecticut’s third congressional district — a region that includes New Haven, Middletown and Stratford — will have the choice of voting for one of two candidates: incumbent Rep. Rosa DeLauro, a Democrat who has held the seat since 1991, and Angel Cadena, a Republican who has never before held elected office.
Both candidates won the support of their parties at their respective conventions, bypassing a primary election. DeLauro has represented the third district since she first won the office in 1990, beating Republican candidate Thomas Scott by a margin of 5 percent. Over the past 25 years, DeLauro — the longest-serving Connecticut Congresswoman — has been continuously elected, never securing less than 63 percent of public support. Her closest contender in recent years was Republican Jerry Labriola Jr. in 2010, whom DeLauro defeated with 65 percent of the vote.
This year, her opposition is Angel Cadena, a Marine Corps veteran and truck driver who believes that he can bridge the partisan divide stalling progress in the House.
Cadena faces long odds, running against a candidate as established as DeLauro in a district that is overwhelmingly Democratic. According to the 2015 data released by the Connecticut Secretary of State, the district has only 75,000 registered Republican voters compared to over 204,000 registered Democratic voters. In New Haven, roughly 70 percent of registered voters are Democrats.
Yet Cadena said he is unfazed by DeLauro’s experience and wants to give voters an alternative choice. Emphasizing the need for term limits, he added that the government functions most efficiently with a constant influx of fresh ideas.
“I’m just trying to get my name out there,” Cadena said. “There’s probably going to be 350,000 people voting in this election in this district, and she has a machine like none other. I’m letting people know they have a choice, instead of doing the same thing over and over again.”
Though DeLauro and Cadena both point to similar issues facing the third district — such as the need to expand economic opportunities and end homelessness — their campaigns diverge on a number of issues. Over the course of her career, DeLauro has supported expanding federal support for education, employee benefits and food safety issues. Cadena, meanwhile, said individual liberties such as protecting gun rights are at the forefront of his campaign.
DeLauro noted that Hillary Clinton LAW ’73 has backed many of the issues central to her campaign, such as work-life balance, while Cadena intends to vote for Donald Trump in the presidential election.
DeLauro’s and Cadena’s campaign fundraising also markedly diverge. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, as of Oct. 19, DeLauro has raised $1,174,784 for this year’s campaign and spent 95 percent of it. More than half of DeLauro’s campaign contributions have come from Political Action Committees, in addition to health care, public sector union and lobbying industries. Her top 20 contributors include the International Association of Firefighters, the National Education Association, the International Association of Teamsters, Lockheed Martin, Yale University and the local union UNITE HERE!, which represents graduate teachers and research assistants at Yale.
In contrast, Cadena stopped raising money months ago after reaching the $10,000 mark and now runs an entirely self-funded campaign.
“I felt like I was wasting my time raising money,” he said. “I’m never going to raise Rosa DeLauro amount of money. I’ll work with what I have. That’s what I’ve done my whole life.”
In an interview with the News, DeLauro highlighted her past achievements and hopes for another term in office. She said issues such as college affordability, employment opportunities, equal pay for equal work, child care affordability and wage stagnation continue to persist in the third district, and that she hopes to continue advocating for her constituents through a fourteenth term.
“We have a number of projects in the city of New Haven now that deal with expansive economic growth, whether it’s the Downtown Crossing Project, or whether it’s the connector that connects the Hill neighborhood, or the project that’s on the New Haven Coliseum site,” she said. “All of these are economic drivers and help to create jobs.”
Cadena also pointed to job growth and homelessness as some of the most critical issues facing constituents of the third district. In an interview with the News, he said regulations should be loosened so that small businesses owners are free to innovate and take risks. He added that his “whole purpose in life” is protecting individual liberty and freedom, particularly the right to bear arms.
Cadena added that his experiences growing up as a minority in a low-income Chicago neighborhood and serving as a Marine would serve him well as a politician.
Before joining the Marines, he said, he worked as a security guard for a Chicago bar. One night, he witnessed a shooting between rival gangs, administered first-aid to the victim and helped stop an act of retaliation. He believes that his ability to collaborate and diffuse high-tension situations would help him address the current friction between Republicans and Democrats in Congress.
“I feel I could bridge that gap,” he said. “I grew up in Chicago, and I understand the issues from both sides. If I could get in there, to the Congress at least, we could actually get some things passed that would help the individual.”
Cadena had a circuitous route to his current campaign. In the early 2000s, he was working as a massage therapist, but after the Sept. 11 attacks, he decided to join the Marine Corps. He served for four years, stationed in Okinawa, Japan, during which time he was deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan. After being discharged, he earned a B.S. in political science at Southern Connecticut State University and worked for Republican Linda McMahon’s 2012 Senate Campaign as her veteran’s liaison and a consultant for Republican James Brown’s 2014 congressional campaign against DeLauro.
Cadena ran for state comptroller in 2014, although he did not make it past the primaries.
Today, he is simultaneously running his congressional campaign while working as an overnight truck driver. He usually drives 12 to 14 hours a night on jobs for Whole Foods, covering 400 to 500 miles, he said. After completing his shift, he returns home for a brief nap, and then begins campaigning.
Although he has never held public office, Cadena has a number of ideas about how to address persistent issues like homelessness and economic stagnation in the third district. He said that economic growth could be spurred by having regulations for new businesses kick in gradually. He also suggested that employees could be paid every day, rather than every two weeks, in order to help people pay taxes and avoid overdrafting their bank accounts.
Inspired by his experiences living out of the cab of his truck, he also floated the idea of investing in microhomes to reduce homelessness in Connecticut.
While his opponent benefits greatly from name recognition, Cadena said he has no qualms about his campaign. He said he is thinking of the campaign as a way to gain political experience and build his own influence.
“When it was warmer out, I was on my motorcycle just pulling up to people like ‘Hey, I’m Angel. I’m running for Congress,’” he said.
In the long-term, he hopes to gain political experience and return to Chicago to reduce the city’s taxes and regulation and rebuild trust between the police and the local community.
“People who are in dire situations, turmoil: I come from that,” he said. “We can make it. It’s tough, it’s hard, there are going to be times when you’re sitting there, wondering where you’re going to be getting your next meal from, as long as you believe that you can make it to the next day, there’s always the chance that you can just break out.”
Kenneth Evans, Connecticut Transit bus driver from West Haven and registered Democrat, said he has voted for DeLauro in the past, and plans to vote for her again this year.
“Rosa has been good for the community and the people of New Haven. She’s always done good things,” he said.
He added that the major issues facing New Haven, which he hopes DeLauro will continue to focus on, are housing scarcity, homelessness and insufficient employment opportunities.
Carlos Cardoso, who has lived in Connecticut for decades, has also supported DeLauro in past years and said he will vote for her again this year, although he is not registered with a specific party.
“She is outspoken, she’s always defending that issues that I like — people’s rights, human rights,” he said. “I think she’s fearless, fighting for what she believes. And she looks pretty honest.”
But even DeLauro supporters voiced concerns about her extended time in office. Evans said there should be “fresh blood” in public offices. Cardosa said he believes that term limits should be enacted.
For others, though, DeLauro’s longtime career in Congress reflects her enduring strength as a politician.
“From the beginning, she has defended the rights of workers, immigrants and marginalized communities of all stripes, becoming a national icon for progressive values in the halls of Congress,” said Maxwell Ulin ’17, the president of the Yale College Democrats, in an email. “She has cultivated so many strong relationships across the New Haven community that she is known simply as ‘Rosa’ by everyday New Haveners — no small feat considering the popularity of the name.”
The Yale Democrats are “absolutely” supporting DeLauro this year, Ulin said, and have supported every one of her congressional campaigns. In past years, the Yale Democrats have backed DeLauro by distributing pamphlets on her biennial get-out-the-vote drive, and helped turn out Yale students for DeLauro on Election Day.
Mike Fitzgerald ’19, the co-president of the Yale New Republicans — a group which formed after splitting off from the Yale Republicans this summer — said the group intends to focus on down-ballot Republicans, particularly those running for Senate seats, since it is unlikely that a Republican will win a House seat in Connecticut.
Polls in Connecticut are open from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday.
Correction, Nov. 9: An earlier version of this article misstated the year in which Cadena worked on Linda McMahon’s Senate campaign.