Election Night

In the past, all of my political efforts were directed at Fairfield. This time around, not being in office, I found myself drifting into working on behalf of Ned Lamont and was therefore invited to attend the Election Night party. Throughout the day all I heard was that turnaround in town and across the state was depressingly low.

I spent a few hours making Get Out the Vote calls only to discover that some homes had already been called two or three times. No wonder people had the election season. They’re inundated with mailers and calls. It got so that while in the car last night, a cell phone rang Lindsay Lamont cracked that it was probably another Lamont robocall. Sardonic humor as it turned out because despite the polling to suggest a tight race, Dan Malloy bested Lamont by a sizeable margin.

The mood was cautious as I arrived at Testo’s restaurant with a giant screen projecting one local channel’s coverage while another screen had constantly refreshed election results via the Internet. When I arrived there were 17% of the votes counted and Malloy was leading 57%-43%. People milled about, bought drinks at the cash bar, and nibbled on the hot appetizers, eyes fixed on the screens. By 9, with over 30% counted, Malloy was up to 59% and it seemed Lamont was never going to mount a challenge. Deb had joined me by then, and we watched with fellow Fairfielders.

Around 9:40, things hadn’t changed but the room was filling with people filing in from the VIP room. To me it was clear they were coming in to watch Ned concede to Dan. Sure enough, the screens went dark and Bridgeport Mayor Bill Finch took the podium, accompanied by New Haven Mayor John DeStefano. They spoke rousingly, making it clear Dan had won and it was time to come together as a party. Finally, the Lamont and Glassman ticket arrived with their families in tow. Mary Glassman spoke first, continuing Finch’s theme, then thanking her family for their support. Lamont took the mike, recounted Lindsay’s joke, and said we all needed to keep some humor about us. His speech was note perfect, congratulating Dan, thanking the party and his family, and speaking of the need to have a Democrat look after our interests.

Everyone filed off the stage and went into the hallway between the rooms and greeted people in an odd sort of receiving line. We continued to chat among ourselves, taking time to comfort the visibly distraught Francesca Capodilupo, our campaign contact and tireless worker. At some point, I went to speak with Emily Lamont, eldest child of the candidate, and we talked first about her being able to sleep in this morning and what her next steps were since she graduated in May and the campaign had ended.

Similarly, I found myself in conversation with two seniors who turned out to be Mary Glassman’s parents. It was a lively conversation between two pair of parents, talking about our accomplished children and discovering numerous communalities. This led to our then talking with Mary’s daughter Amanda, who just graduated college, and her son Nathan. It was a very personal, very nice way to end a somber evening.

So, what went wrong? Low turnout was certainly a culprit with Fairfield somewhat matching the state with 24% of the Democrats and 26% of the Republicans coming to the polls. Money was another factor with Lamont spending $9 million of his own to get the message out early and often. Malloy couldn’t compete until he received his state funding of $2.5 million. And then he came out swinging with the campaign’s first negative commercial on July 23. He went negative early and then stayed negative, attacking Lamont rather than telling us what he would do if he were governor. He saved that for the debates, with paltry television ratings, blunting the more positive message.

“Probably one of the most effective lines of attack that Malloy had was the job cuts at Ned’s company,” Matthew J. Hennessy, a consultant for Lamont, told The Hartford Courant. “Even though that had been debunked in the 2006 election, it still resonated with Democratic primary voters. It was far more effective than the [Lamont] campaign initially understood.”

As I said yesterday, Malloy wasn’t the only one to go negative. Just about everyone on both sides of the aisle found themselves wallowing in the mud, slinging with abandon. While one could take away from this that going negative works, its hard to accept that since Lamont finally countered and also went negative but still lost. Is the lesson whoever goes negative first, wins? I don’t know. I can only hope that Malloy finds the resources he needs to combat Republican Tom Foley, who has his own personal fortune to tap, ensuring this will be a loud, noisy, expensive, and negative campaign.

Sadly, defining their messages for Connecticut’s future is likely to be buried, robbing the voters of really knowing what these two men offer the state.

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