Democrat Jahana Hayes declared victory in the 5th Congressional District, meaning she will be the first African American woman to represent Connecticut in the U.S. House.
“You did it,” Hayes said to the cheering crowd at the Courtyard by Marriott in Waterbury. “We were waiting upstairs for all of the numbers to come in but there is no path to victory, so I am declaring it right here and now.”
Hayes thanked her supporters and said “not only am I built for this, I’m Brass City built for this,” she said.
Republican Manny Santos, the former Meriden mayor running against her, conceded shortly after midnight as Hayes stretched out her lead with more precincts reporting.
The seat was open because U.S. Rep. Elizabeth Esty, a Democrat, decided not to run after questions about her handling of alleged abuse by a staffer.
“It was up to Connecticut voters and they’ve decided, evidently, they didn’t have a problem with taxes and illegal immigration and so on that will continue to plague us,” he said.
Santos supporters carefully watched results coming in at the American Legion Post 45 on Hanover Avenue in Meriden. Hayes’ campaign was at the Courtyard by Marriott in Waterbury.
Early in the evening Santos greeted supporters with optimism.
“I’m feeling good,” he said. “It’s been a long several months. We’ve done our best, now it’s up to the voters. I’m fairly confident I’m going to do well.”
Santos credited his opponent with running a positive campaign, and said it was particularly difficult to overcome the large disparity in Hayes’ campaign war chest.
Santos won a decisive victory in a three-way primary in August. Hayes also had an impressive win against a primary challenger. Her campaign continued its momentum up to election day. She raised $1.5 million to Santos’ $64,000.
The district spans 41 cities and towns from the state’s northwest corner south to Danbury and east to Meriden. Democrats outnumber Republicans but unaffiliated voters outnumber members of both parties.
Hayes, 45, is a Waterbury public school teacher, who was raised in Waterbury public housing. She became a teen mother but eventually enrolled in college and was named National Teacher of the Year in 2016.
She campaigned on a progressive platform of social issues, background checks on gun owners, improvements to health care, investments in education and environmental regulations.
Santos, a Persian Gulf War veteran and an immigrant, campaigned on a pro-Trump platform, aligning himself with the president’s economic policies of cutting taxes and regulations to help small business.
Santos is also a social conservative who opposed gay marriage and told a crowd of college students that student debt is often something “students bring upon themselves.”