The 5th District Congressional race is reportedly generating the strongest voter enthusiasm of all state contests, with record registration reported in its 41 cities and towns.
It also features two candidates who have run very different campaigns.
Democrat Jahana Hayes, the 2016 national teacher of the year, has received national attention and has a significant fundraising advantage over Republican Manny Santos. The advantage has allowed her to run TV ads.
“It’s like building a plane while you’re flying it,” the Wolcott resident said about her campaign this week. “Everything has happened so quickly. I never imagined this momentum.”
Santos, the former Meriden mayor and U.S. Marine, plans to make some radio appearances in the campaign’s last few days, but otherwise has been relying on smaller public events to reach voters.
“I’m letting them know, I am candidate that’s looking out for their best interests,” he said. Santos, who has raised $64,000 to Hayes’ $1.3 million, has opted for social media advertising.
The two are running to replace U.S. Rep. Elizabeth Esty.
Hayes’ endorsements include President Barack Obama, NARAL Pro Choice and Emily’s List, Move on, several employee unions, the Sierra Club and several state newspapers, including the Record-Journal.
Santos’ endorsements include the Independent Party of Connecticut, the Connecticut Citizens Defense League, the Latino National Republican Coalition of Connecticut, and the Republican-American.
The race has been rated as a safe victory for Democrats by several political forecasters, including Cook Political Report, Sabato’s Crystal Ball and FiveThirtyEight.
The two candidates engaged in five debates, but Santos canceled the final two in late October. Santos explained on his campaign’s social media page he did not want to give Hayes more opportunities to tout her platform.
The move confused political watchers who said Santos needed the exposure as a way to cover more ground.
“He has a compelling story of immigrant success and military service, yet he has maintained the same low profile he had in the primary campaign,” said Scott McClean, political science professor at Quinnipiac University. “Hayes comes across very well in media and perhaps Santos thinks giving her more spotlight in a debate is too risky.”
Both candidates survived August primaries.
Santos hopes polls showing a tighter governor’s race between Republican Bob Stefanowski and Democrat Ned Lamont could help boost his vote total. Some political watchers suspect the enthusiasm for Hayes could boost support for Lamont.
“The campaign is going really well,” Santos said. “I’m getting good feedback and a lot of encouragement. Come Tuesday, the taxpayers of Connecticut will have a clear choice.”
The two candidates offer starkly different policy platforms. Santos backs President Trump’s economic policies, local oversight of schools, free markets and business deregulation.
He is also a strong supporter of the Second Amendment, wants to repeal the Affordable Care Act, and said funding Medicaid through block grants would give states more flexibility. His family emigrated from Portugal and he supports a path to legalization for DACA recipients, but not citizenship.
Hayes was raised in a Waterbury housing project by her grandmother and became a mother at age 17. She eventually became a teacher and considers herself a strong advocate for education investment. She also supports health care for all and immigration reform that leads to a path to citizenship. Hayes opposes free tuition for all, but supports regulations on businesses to protect the environment and responsible gun ownership.
If elected, Hayes will be the first black Democrat elected to Congress from Connecticut.
Hayes will be attending rallies throughout the district in the campaign’s final days and says she isn’t taking anything for granted.
“I want to make sure there isn’t a community I haven’t been in,” Hayes said. “I’m the same candidate who people didn’t think would make it out of the primaries.”
Santos said he’s spending the next few days making sure voters know who he is, and that the election is around the corner.