MERIDEN — Former Meriden Mayor Manny Santos has announced a run for Congress.
Santos will run for the 5th Congressional District seat held by Democrat Elizabeth Esty. A Republican, Santos served as Meriden’s mayor from 2013 to 2015 and ran unsuccessfully for City Council last year.
“Connecticut needs representation in Washington that can work with the current administration to solve the real issues that plague our country,” Santos said in a statement.
J.R. Romano, the state Republican Party chairman, called Santos a “great candidate.”
“He is a former mayor and has contacts and relationships throughout the district,” Romano said.
The sweeping district reaches from Danbury to Meriden and includes New Britain and Waterbury. Those cities have primarily benefited Democrats, while its many small towns tend to lean Republican.
The district has the highest number of unaffiliated voters in the state, and is often considered a Republican target. A Democrat has held the seat since 2006, when Nancy Johnson lost to now-U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy.
Esty has held the seat since 2012, when she defeated Republican Andrew Roraback with 52 percent of the vote. Esty defended the seat in 2014 against Mark Greenberg with 53 percent of the vote, and again in 2016 against Clay Cope with 58 percent of the vote.
New Britain Republican Craig Diangelo is also looking to oppose Esty. He could not be reached for comment Wednesday. Republicans will endorse a candidate at their May convention, but the nomination may not be decided until August if a primary is held.
Santos decided to run several months ago after talking to his family, said campaign manager Robert Fields of Waterbury.
“Part of the campaign strategy is focusing on cities that haven’t seen a lot of economic growth, ” Fields said. “For instance, the success of Danbury can be seen as a incubator for the 5th District cities like Waterbury.”
Santos plans to endorse Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton in the gubernatorial race, Fields said.
Romano criticized Esty for opposing President Donald Trump’s policies, including those on immigration and taxes.
“Trump is willing to negotiate, but you have Democrats like Esty just resisting everything,” Romano said. “She’s not representing the needs of the state and 5th District.”
Esty’s campaign pointed to her record of getting legislation through the current Congress as an example of her ability to reach bipartisan consensus. Esty’s record includes bills promoting women in business and the sciences, improving the appeals process for veterans seeking medical care, increasing cost-of-living pay adjustments for veterans, and human trafficking.
“Elizabeth is proud of the results she’s gotten for families in Meriden and throughout central and northwestern Connecticut, having gotten six bills signed into law in this Congress alone,” said Meghan Scanlon, of Friends of Elizabeth Esty. “She welcomes participation in our democracy and appreciates everyone who makes the decision to run.”
The Democratic State Central Committee immediately linked Santos to Trump, who lost in Connecticut to Democrat Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential election.
“This is just another example of a Trump Republican trying to roll back progress in Connecticut,” party spokeswoman Christina Polizzi in an email. “Our grassroots Democratic base is fired up and they know Congresswoman Esty stands for Connecticut values against the extreme Trump agenda.”
Santos won the Meriden mayoral seat in 2013 against Democrat Michael Rohde. He had a combative term before losing to unaffiliated candidate Kevin Scarpati, a registered Republican who was endorsed by the Democrats in 2015.
Last November, Santos lost an at-large City Council race as the third highest vote-getter out of four candidates.
Meriden Republican Town Chairman Guy Beeman and Romano pointed to differences in the dynamics between local, state and national races. In recent years, Santos has become more active in statewide GOP politics, rubbing elbows with GOP candidates like New Britain Mayor Erin Stewart and Boughton.
“That’s the kind of exposure you need to get to the next step,” Beeman said. “City politics is a whole different level. He is able to relate to people and understands the process. He doesn’t take anything for granted.”