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Connecticut News

Public Financing Has Helped Even Playing Field In Races For State Legislature

The Connecticut Capitol Building in Hartford
Johnathon Henninger
The Connecticut State Capitol in Hartford.

As the midterms approach, a Connecticut political scientist says state legislative races seem to be more competitive than congressional races.  

Connecticut started offering public financing to qualified candidates for statewide offices and the General Assembly more than a decade ago. Gary Rose, a Sacred Heart University political scientist, says the funding system, known as the Citizens’ Election Program, has made state legislative races a lot more competitive.

“A lot of individuals that are competing against incumbents have drawn even in terms of money because of the Citizens’ Election Program. Which is a very good thing. A very healthy thing for democracy. And they’ve been using those funds very effectively, and they also seem to have pretty good name recognition to run against incumbents.”

He says that’s not the case for challengers in congressional races.

“At the federal level we have nothing of the sort. Candidates are on their own to raise their own money or to get money from special interest groups. And their fundraising is rather paltry compared to the incumbents.’”

With a little more than two weeks until the election, political scientists say it looks unlikely that Republicans will be able to gain any U.S. congressional seats in the state. Their candidates have little name recognition and haven’t been able to raise the money required to be competitive.

Scott McLean, a political scientist at Quinnipiac University who follows congressional races, says four of Connecticut’s five congressional seats are held by well-funded entrenched Democratic incumbents.

Even in the race for the open 5th Congressional District seat, the Democratic candidate Jahana Hayes has raised over $1 million compared to her Republican opponent, Manny Santos, who has raised about $55,000.

Rose says that is the biggest surprise and “a very interesting contest between Jahana Hayes, a Democrat, and also who was chosen National Teacher of the Year, against Manny Santos, a former mayor of Meriden, Connecticut, who is also a veteran of the Iraq War. That has become somewhat of a national race because we have a candidate who of course has some national recognition.”

Hayes has raised $1.3 million by tapping into Democratic donors from across the country, while Santos has barely been able to raise $55,000 for his campaign. Rose says the national parties are not funding congressional races in Connecticut probably because they don’t consider them to be competitive.

“I think what we are seeing all across the country generally is that the districts that are red are likely to get redder. And the districts that are blue are likely to get bluer. And Connecticut is not immune from those tendencies,” McLean said.