What a difference an election cycle makes. The August Democratic primary featured three aggressive races in Bridgeport: Mayor Joe Ganim’s challenge of party-endorsed Ned Lamont for governor, the State Senate battle between party-endorsed Dennis Bradley and Aaron Turner and the State House face-off between 126th District incumbent Charlie Stallworth and Shante Hanks. The Town Clerk’s Office received roughly 1,700 requests for absentee ballots with more than 1,000 returned by electors. With about two weeks left to the Nov. 6 general election so far it’s about 900 requests. What happened? A combination of factors.
The big event in Bridgeport, as well as statewide, is Lamont versus Republican Bob Stefanowski. Absentee ballots are worked when something’s on the line, or something’s in it for political operatives who know how to work their serial absentee ballot voters. So far local political operatives on the ground aren’t working it as intensely as the primary season. Contested races drive absentee ballot interest in the city, with political operatives banking votes prior to the actual day of voting. In a city 10 to 1 Democrat to Republican, this is where the Democratic line can run up hundreds of extra votes.
Although clubbed statewide by Lamont, Bridgeport was the one place Ganim won. Along the way Ganim’s political operation banked 705 absentee ballot votes in Bridgeport to Lamont’s 348. Bradley had 563 absentee ballot votes in a district that covers about two thirds of the city to Turner’s 226. In the State House race covering Whiskey Hill and portions of the North End and Upper East Side, Stallworth bagged 161 to Hanks’ 69. What does this all mean?
The on-the-ground synergy between Lamont’s camp and Bridgeport’s citywide political organization has not yet jelled, likely the residual of the scratchy primary season and the inability of the various campaign camps to settle on someone trusted to run the citywide coordinated operation.
The political camps of Congressman Jim Himes and U.S. Senator Chris Murphy, both of whom are expected to win reelection, are trying to juice urban turnout. That benefits Lamont who’s leading by single digits in most pols, certainly not comfy enough to leave anything to chance. In Connecticut, New Haven and Bridgeport are the powerhouses of urban turnout. Lamont, who had a modest primary presence in Bridgeport, has kicked up his visibility in the city the past few weeks as the home stretch commences. Ganim has been saying all the right things publicly about Lamont, but that has not translated down to a tight, organized field operation. Lamont has core supporters in Bridgeport but it’s hard to tell who’s bringing it all together with pockets of support here and there.
This weekend recognition took hold that a coordinated effort must kick up. Democratic Town Chair Mario Testa joined a number of party insiders at Lamont’s Main Street headquarters to help plan out the final two weeks.
Then there’s the State Elections Enforcement Commission ruling on Friday denying Bradley’s application for a $95,000 general election public campaign grant for a variety of election law violations including utilizing his law firm’s resources to supplement his campaign. Although that news will not blunt Bradley’s election chances given the massive Democratic registration advantage, it mutes nearly $100K spent on canvassing, turnout and absentee ballot mobilization. And a number of Bradley campaign workers will likely be stiffed without that loot.
But as one Democratic supporter of Lamont declared, citing Bridgeport’s notorious reputation for absentee ballot coveting, “Maybe that’s not such a bad thing.”