Other than losing, of course, the one thing Andres Ayala and Mayor Bill Finch’s operatives supporting him for State Senate wanted to avoid on Tuesday was losing on the machines to Ernie Newton. Yes, they had a cushion with more than 400 absentee ballots in the bank but losing on the machines only to be saved by absentee ballots would have caused Newton forces to unload prehistoric noises of protests. “They stole it. They cheated.” They did this and that. It almost happened. Ayala won on the machines by fewer than 150 votes.
From the start of the campaign the Ayala forces believed Newton, not incumbent Ed Gomes, was the one to beat. Their voter ID showed consistently that Newton had strength largely in the East End and other pockets of the city as well as the Stratford portion of the district. Had they lost to Newton on the machines they’d have to listen to the meows of illegitimacy. (Think Bush-Gore 2000. Bushy loses the popular vote but wins on that idiotic electoral vote process.) Just in case, the Ayala team unleashed a potent absentee ballot operation led by the city’s queen of absentee ballots City Councilwoman Lydia Martinez and former State Rep. Americo Santiago who served as campaign director. Finch operatives were helping but it was Americo’s show. Americo has a skill set in campaigns but it’s usually Americo’s way or the highway. Finch operatives stayed just close enough in case Americo blew a flat along the way.
Finch’s political organization includes a collection of operatives handling message, strategy, fundraising, voter ID, door knocking and voter turnout. Some of them are on the city payroll, some of them are turnout pros who show up when Finch needs them. You start primary day with a list of vote supporters and check them off as they vote. The ones that haven’t voted you unload with phone calls, door knocks, rides, manna from heaven if you must, but get them to vote.
After nearly five years as mayor Finch et al. have figured out where they can generally persuade enough votes to deliver the candidate they support. As the morning hours passed on Tuesday and the turnout was a pathetic nightmare, the Finchies could see this slipping away. Jesus, we have to listen to Newton cackling for the next two years! Can’t have that.
By midday it was “Americo … Americo … this thing is slipping away. Where are you channeling your resources? Not there. Over here. We have to run up wins at Hooker and Beardsley, all those new voters in the district … have they voted yet? Marin School is falling short. Unload everything to get them there.” In campaigns you fish where the fish are.
Sometimes just a few campaign operatives can make a difference. Had Finch et al. not stepped up for Andres Ayala, they’d be hearing it good and hard from Ernie Newton. Ayala can thank Finch and company for sparing him the noise.
And just think how the results would have been different had Democratic leaders in Hartford not carved thousands of residents from the Wilbur Cross precinct into the adjoining State Senate district. Newton likely would have won.
Check out the unofficial machine totals below:
MACHINE TOTALS NEWTON AYALA GOMES Dunbar 304 71 112 JFK 149 167 83 Harding 177 118 74 Beardsley 27 48 22 Hallen 124 90 105 Hooker 104 158 113 Read 15 46 32 Johnson 84 118 66 Marin 89 317 50 Central 35 35 45 Barnum 80 170 38 Bassick 78 76 67 Battalia 89 127 44 City Hall 30 59 29 Franklin 16 13 15 Johnson House 153 79 157 Total machine 1554 1692 1052