SOUTHINGTON — Democratic House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz, who narrowly beat a Republican opponent who entered the race three weeks before election day, pointed out that he was able to gather more support within the district than other candidates from his party.
Republican Michael Gagliardi conceded the election in the 30th House District following Tuesday’s recount. In the final tally, he lost by 50 votes. The district includes parts of Southington and Berlin.
Aresimowicz described his seat as a “swing district” that was held for 20 years by Republican Ann Dandrow. As House speaker, he’s also in the public eye as a Democratic leader more than most.
“The positions I have to take as the leader of the caucus — does that cost me some support? I’m sure it does,” he said.
Gagliardi entered the race three weeks before the election. Steve Baleshiski, the party’s initial nominee, bowed out after controversy regarding Facebook posts he wrote about Islam and Parkland shooting survivor David Hogg.
The timing of Baleshiski’s decision meant that he appeared on the initial absentee ballots. Connecticut Republican Party Chairman J.R. Romano said votes for Baleshiski were dismissed, and some residents in the district were disenfranchised.
“They made a conscious decision to vote against Joe Aresimowicz,” Romano said. “Joe lost on election day.”
Betty Tedeschi, Berlin Republican registrar of voters, said her office received at least a dozen absentee votes for Baleshiski. The Republican Town Committee provided updated ballots with Gagliardi’s name to absentee voters.
“They were all sent letters with new applications,” she said. Registrars in Southington couldn’t be reached Thursday.
Absentee ballots must be received by election day.
Gary Rose, professor and chair of government, politics and global studies at Sacred Heart University, said the demographics of the district favors Republicans. Middle class white voters tend to support conservative candidates.
“I think that helps explain (Aresimowicz) in a very tight race and why they had such a nail biter of an election,” Rose said.
Switching candidates mid-stream may have helped the incumbent keep his seat.
“Anytime you have a replacement candidate coming in, that throws a wrench in things,” Rose said. “Had there been a continuous candidacy on the Republican side, it’s very possible that the speaker of the House would have gone down.”
The next Democratic candidate in the district will have to figure out how to win over voters that tend to lean right. The district supported Republican gubernatorial candidate Bob Stefanowski and Republican U.S. Senate candidate Mathew Corey, both of whom lost their elections.
“It seems as though the people the 30th district were not in favor of voting for a Democrat,” Aresimowicz said. “I’m the only Democrat to win this district overall… Sometimes it’s less about party and more about the individual as it pertains to my win.”
Aresimowicz, who has announced he won’t run again, said he’ll focus on General Assembly business over the next two years, modernizing the state’s transportation, improving workforce education and increasing tourism dollars rather than the prospects for keeping the seat blue.
Romano was encouraged about the GOP’s prospects in two years.
“The numbers look good,” he said. “When someone steps into the race on such short notice and does so well, it’s obviously trending in a Republican fashion.”
Democrats gained legislative seats on election day, including some held by Republicans for decades, but Romano said Democrats’ support came mostly in very wealthy or urban areas.
“What you see in this entire electoral map is that Democrats have lost the blue collar workers, they’ve lost the middle class,” he said. “The Democratic Party no longer represents hard working, middle class Americans.”
Aresimowicz didn’t see the same effect at work, saying Democrats won seats based on quality candidates whose messages resonated with voters. Even with two additional recounts ordered in recent days, Democrats stand to hold more than 90 seats in the House and at least 22 seats in the Senate come January.
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