One week to go until the Aug. 14 Democratic primary for State Senate. This is the first of three OIB posts examining what the respective campaign camps of Ernie Newton, Andres Ayala and Ed Gomes must do to win.
When Ernie Newton hears he cannot win the Aug. 14 Democratic State Senate primary against two incumbents, current office holder Ed Gomes and State Rep. Andres Ayala, Newton powers his comeback with this rejoinder: “They said I’d never get the endorsement. Then they said I’d never raise the money. They will be wrong again.”
Newton’s campaign doesn’t lack for passion. Newton’s headquarters on Barnum Avenue near the Bridgeport-Stratford line has been humming with campaign workers as Newton seeks to reclaim the State Senate seat he once occupied before corruption charges derailed his political career seven years ago. In fact, redemption and opportunity is his campaign battle cry. The redemption campaign mantra doesn’t just apply to Newton, says the candidate, it’s also for all the folks who seek a second chance but are stereotyped from the opportunity. The self-described Moses of his peeps is the lightning rod in the race, a clear contrast to the low-key personalities of Gomes and Ayala.
While Gomes and Ayala generally duck media attention, for Newton it doesn’t matter if it’s the Wall Street Journal, Hartford Courant, The New York Times–high-powered publications with relatively little readership in Connecticut’s 23rd State Senate District–Newton will accommodate interviews about his past, present and future efforts as a tool to frame himself to his voters as an outside media curiosity bent to keep him down.
“I haven’t been in office for seven years,” Newton says. “I’m running against two incumbents. And all these media folk are worried about Ernie Newton.”
Newton is the one who adds spice to the race. If it was just Gomes versus Ayala it would be just another primary. This isn’t just another primary. Newton stunned the state political establishment by winning the party endorsement in May. In fact, a stop-Newton movement dominates this race from State Senate leadership in Hartford that counts on Gomes as a reliable vote to campaign operatives of Mayor Bill Finch who believe Newton will be impossible to work with if he wins and once again becomes one of 36 members of the Senate.
This three-way race could be just large enough for Gomes and Ayala to split the anti-Newton vote to allow his political resurrection. Newton scoffs at the notion claiming he has broad-based support across the district that covers most of Bridgeport and a portion of western Stratford. Newton, as well as his opponents, has also qualified for Connecticut’s public financing system that avails roughly $95K for this race.
If Newton’s to become the Phoenix of his people he must run up a large proportional number in the city’s East End. That’s clearly Newton territory where he represented largely African American constituents during his years on the City Council and in the State House before winning a close special election for State Senate over Gomes in 2003 following the death of Alvin Penn. Newton’s political operation in the East End brings to the table seasoned campaign operatives such as East End District Leader Ralph Ford and an army of paid and volunteer campaign workers trying to juice turnout at Dunbar and Harding precincts that combine for roughly 5,000 registered Dems.
Campaign operatives for all three camps say they doubt the turnout in this race will hit 20 percent district wide. If that’s the case, just 1700 votes or so could win in a close three-way fight. Absentee ballot votes could be key in settling this race. As it is now tracking with about one week to go, Ayala and Newton are outpacing Gomes in that area judging by the sheer number of aligned political operatives who signed out absentee ballot applications. Both the Ayala and Newton camps are working toward a goal of 400 votes via absentee ballots. If they hit their number more than 20 percent of their votes could come by absentee ballots, by Bridgeport standards in recent years a hefty percentage return. For campaign vote counters that’s money in the bank.
Newton says he doesn’t have to beat Ayala’s AB number just stay close enough to pull out a winning machine-count total. And, he claims, being on the top line as the endorsed candidate counts among some Democratic primary voters. If Newton pulls this off he’ll have accomplished a political comeback most state political observers say is unparalleled in state history.
(Editor’s note: Chris Keating of the Hartford Courant shadowed Ernie Newton on the campaign trail the other day. The Newton YouTube video is a clip taken by Keating.)