Although Latino candidates, once again, will be absent from the top of the Connecticut ballot on November 6, they are very much center stage as Republicans and Democrats battle to break their 18-18 deadlock in the state Senate.
In addition to possibly deciding control of the General Assembly’s upper chamber, the three contests in which Latinos are prominent carry historical implications.
Latinos have never held more than two Senate seats and never more than one on the Democratic side, and none currently.
This situation could change dramatically. Democrats with Hispanic connections have a good shot at winning three seats. Two are in districts where Latinos comprise a small portion of the electorate, the 9th and 17th, but where Democrats historically have done well.
In the 23rd Senate District, which covers much of Bridgeport and part of Stratford, Latino Democrats expect Dennis Bradley II, whose heritage is Dominican, to win the seat that became open when incumbent Democrat Edwin Gomes decided to retire.
Bradley holds a big edge over Republican John Rodriguez because of the overwhelmingly Democratic registration in the district.
The assignment November 6 is more challenging for Republicans. Their best opportunity is in the 17th District, which is now represented by George Logan, whose background is Guatamalan and who is one of two Latino Republicans now in the Senate. He also is the only black Republican in that chamber.
“This (23rd District) is a high priority seat for both parties,” said Logan’s opponent Jorge Cabrera, a Hamden resident of Puerto Rican descent who is getting a lot of statewide Hispanic support in his bid to retake a district that was held by Democrat Joe Crisco, a twelve-term incumbent, until two years ago.
The other Republican Latino state senator, Art Linares (R-33), who in 2012 was one of the first two Latinos ever elected to the Senate, is not seeking a fourth term. The son of a Cuban exile, Linares opted to run for state treasurer and did not receive his party’s nomination.
The electoral picture is much different and clearer for Latinos in the state House of Representatives elections, where a dozen incumbents, all Democrats, mostly face little or no competition.
This contingent will lose a 13th member with Matt Lesser (D-100), whose mother is Argentine, instead running for the state Senate in the battleground Ninth District.
If there is a marquee contest for Latinos, it is taking place in the hotly contested 17th District, which covers four Naugatuck Valley towns, parts of Woodbridge, Hamden and Naugatuck. Here, two candidates of Latino descent are going head to head to represent a population that is about 15 percent Hispanic, about the state average, and 14 percent African American.
Democratic candidate Jorge Cabrera had to survive a tight three-way primary to get on the ballot, while Logan was unopposed.
Logan won by about 800 votes having built his margin in the five Naugatuck Valley towns that gave his party’s presidential candidate, Donald Trump, huge margins.
It also hurt Crisco that, at age 84, he was not as visible in the district as in the past, according to a leader of the Connecticut Hispanic Democratic Caucus.
Underscoring the importance of the 17th District race is the financial support candidates are receiving from what Cabrera called “third parties.” Several political action committees, who do not directly link up with local campaigns, are spending money independently on mailings, advertisement and other services to back or oppose candidates.
Cabrera, who is a union representative, is being supported by the Service Employees International Union, while Connecticut Values, a PAC funded by the American Federation of Teachers and the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee, is opposing Logan.
Cabrera said he is focusing on “kitchen table issues,” such as many people lacking health care and that, despite working hard, some Connecticut residents are “not making it.”
Thanks to his pro-business stance, Logan, who is an engineer and water company executive, has received support from the National Association of Realtors, which has financed online ads and direct mailings on his behalf. He is also endorsed by the Connecticut Business and Industry Association.
Logan says his priorities are the economy and jobs. He also favors investing in prevention to improve the health care situation.
Another district where PACs are very evident is the Ninth Senate District, which covers Middletown and Hartford’s southern suburbs. Lesser and Edward Charamut of Rocky Hill are vying for a seat left open by incumbent Democrat Paul Doyle who made an unsuccessful bid for attorney general.
Democrats have complained about the influence of outside money on this race, particularly that Change America PAC, funded by Washington, D.C. Republican State Leadership Committee, has spent more than $64,000 opposing Lesser. The CBIA also has endorsed Charamut.
Lesser, after five terms as a state representative, had considered running for secretary of the state, but bowed out when the incumbent Democrat Denise Merrill decided to seek re-election.
Charamut, who describes his ethnic background as Polish, has familiarity with the Latino community as past board chairman and president of the Institute of the Hispanic Family, a drug and alcohol rehabilitation program based in Hartford.
In the 23rd District, Bradley has faced some controversy as the current president of the city school board and also was recently denied public campaign funds for violation of campaign finance laws. In addition, the 31-year-old attorney had to survive a hotly contested three-way primary.
However, Bradley benefits from the district’s strong Democratic registration and history. At the August primary, more than 5,400 Democrats voted compared to 300 Republicans.
The 23rd District also elected in 2012 the Senate’s first Hispanic Democrat, Andres Ayala Jr. Two years later, Ayala was re-elected, but never served this term, having accepted what would be a short-lived appointment as director of the chaotic Connecticut Department of Motor Vehicles.
On the House side, the 41st District race also has a Hispanic element.
Joe de la Cruz of Groton, whose Hispanic ancestry stems from the Philippines, is seeking a second term against Republican Kenneth Richards III, an EMT supervisor and fiscal conservative.
De la Cruz’s campaign treasurer is the young Latino incumbent he defeated two years ago, Aundre Bumgardner. Bumgardner, now 24, switched parties earlier this year citing the “silent complicity” of Republicans after the white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.
In the Fourth House District, Hartford city council member Julio Concepcion, who was born in Puerto Rico, is seeking his first full term after winning a special election for the seat Angel Arce abandoned after scandalous allegations emerged. He has two opponents: Byran Nelson, a Republican, who he defeated easily in the special election, and Mary Sanders of the Green Party.
There are five congressional seats up for election, with only one, the Third District, showing a Latino on a major party ticket. However, Republican Angel Cadena, who is of Puerto Rican and Native American descent according to party leaders, appears to be over-matched financially, logistically and in name recognition against longtime incumbent Rosa DeLauro, who beat him by 38 percentage points two years ago.