Democrat Jahana Hayes and Republican Manny Santos came out of Tuesday’s primaries with solid backing from their own parties and are fine-tuning ways to win over 5th District unaffiliated and cross-party voters.
Hayes handily beat experienced politician and party-endorsed candidate Mary Glassman with 62.2 percent of the vote. Santos, a former Meriden mayor, won a three-way Republican primary with 51.7 percent.
“Today I’ve been on the phone, then I’ll sit down and think about the next step,” Hayes said Wednesday. The Wolcott resident, a former Waterbury teacher, is now supervisor of teacher training. “I plan to run a positive campaign and take problems as they come.”
Hayes was surprised at the level of support in some of the district’s 41 towns that she assumed would back Glassman.
“I thought it would be very close,” Hayes said. “I thought we would be counting absentee and provisional ballots.”
Hayes credits her victory to her Democratic values and moderate policy positions. She intends to maintain flexibility, avoid extremism and demonstrate she will represent Democrats, Republicans, and unaffiliated voters.
If she wins, Hayes will be the first black Democrat elected to Congress from Connecticut and New England.
Santos, who backs President Trump’s economic policies, has said Democrats need to step aside and allow those policies to move forward for the betterment of the state and the U.S. economy He feels the vast number of 5th District voters agree with him. The district includes Meriden and Cheshire.
Santos didn’t receive the same level of outside financial support that Hayes got in the primary race. A New Promise, an outside political action committee, raised $90,000 for Hayes to produce an effective television ad that showed President Barack Obama praising Hayes as National Teacher of the Year in 2016.
She also raised more than five times what Santos did, with half coming from outside the state. Other support came from U.S. Sen. Christopher Murphy and Waterbury Mayor Neil O’Leary.
Some area political experts have said the ad featuring Obama was an effective way to tell her personal story about growing up in a Waterbury housing project, and her journey from teenage mother to an accomplished educator.
While Obama did not endorse her candidacy, Obama’s praise helped instill trust and credibility among Democrats who miss the former president, said Scott McLean, a professor of philosophy and political science at Quinnipiac University.
“It was very compelling and uplifting and easy to remember who this person is,” McLean said.
McLean said Santos, an engineer whose family immigrated to the U.S. from Portugal, also has a compelling story that he needs to share with voters. But fundraising might present challenges for the former mayor.
“He goes into the general election with more people knowing about Jahana Hayes,” he said. “That isn’t going to be easy to overcome.”
The Democratic party across the U.S. has embraced identity politics, and it is at work in the 5th District race, said Gary Rose, a political science professor at Sacred Heart University.
“Gender and race, those are important factors to some voters,” he said.
From the outset, Santos has detailed his policy proposals but hasn’t introduced himself to voters. If he wants to convince party leaders in Washington, D.C. and political action committees to invest in the 5th District, Santo’s has to convince them he has a strong chance to turn the district from blue to red, political experts said.
“The Republican candidate has an interesting story too,” said Rose. “I have never seen a party-endorsed candidate with such a low profile. The fundraising was paltry... Right now he’s up against someone who is getting national coverage.”
Santos is working with state GOP officials to raise money, he said.
“We’re still looking at the numbers now,” Santos said. “The number of contributors are quite substantial. In the next week or so, we’ll be evaluating that.”
Several political ranking agencies shifted the district from solidly Democratic to leaning Democratic earlier this year when U.S. Rep. Elizabeth Esty announced she would not be seeking re-election. Esty made her decision in the wake of criticism over her handling of a workplace violence complaint against her chief of staff.
But Cook political report, and Political Insider have both shifted the race back to solidly Democratic in recent weeks.
“If it’s blue leaning, the Republicans are going to have to spend huge amounts of resources from the outside to get Santos on the same playing field,” McLean said.