It’s been a long time since a Democratic primary to decide a State Senate seat in the city featured three candidates all with an equal chance at victory. In Connecticut’s 23rd Senatorial Ernie Newton has been endorsed, Ed Gomes is the incumbent and State Rep. Andres Ayala should have enough financial firepower and organizational support to put himself in play to win the Aug. 14 primary. Any of these candidates can win.
Ayala brings to the table his East Side legislative base, albeit the lowest turnout area of the city in a heavily Latino district. The senate district has roughly 28,200 registered Dems comprising about 70 percent of Bridgeport and another 2,200 in the western portion of Stratford. If Democratic primary turnout trends continue, roughly 20 percent of the electorate, representing about 6,000 voters, will turn out. It means 2,000 votes can win this primary.
Ayala has established a strong foundation on the East Side. He won his State House seat in a 2006 primary taking out incumbent Lydia Martinez, the city’s queen of absentee ballots. Lydia challenged Ayala in 2008 and he thrashed her, winning 68 percent of the vote. Ironically it was Lydia who placed Ayala’s name into nomination at the party convention last Monday at Testo’s Restaurant on the night of Newton’s endorsement. Lydia may not score well on the day of an election but one thing she knows how to do is bank votes in the days before an election, even if dubiously, in the form of absentee ballots. The passion of Latino politics is the number-one soap opera in the city: break up, get back together; smooch one day, fight the next. Right now Ayala and Lydia are together. Assuming Lydia weighs in hard for Ayala she will bank absentee ballots for him.
Former State Rep. Americo Santiago, who has taken a lead campaign role in Ayala’s candidacy, also knows how to hustle absentee ballots from his base of operation in the South End. Taking this into consideration the Ayala campaign could easily bank 500 absentee ballots heading into primary day. Add those votes to what Ayala should receive on the machines in his legislative base and now he’s over 1,000 votes and more than halfway home to the magic 2,000 mark, assuming a 20 percent district turnout.
Add to this the campaign operation of Mayor Bill Finch that is supporting Ayala and now the state representative is in striking distance of winning the seat. Newton, the endorsed candidate, will run on the top line next to U.S. Senate candidate Chris Murphy. Ayala will run on the same line as Murphy challenger Susan Bysiewicz. The Finch operation supporting Murphy must educate voters about ballot position. Gomes’ name will appear on Line C.
One challenge for Ayala, the former City Council president during the John Fabrizi mayoral years, is his name recognition outside of his East Side base. He will need to introduce himself to voters unaccustomed to voting for him. Money and bodies can take care of that and he should, barring a breakdown, have both. Ayala now works for Fabrizi in the city’s department of Adult Education.
There are scenarios for both Newton and Gomes to also win the primary as OIB will examine in the coming weeks.