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Senator Somers puts her Republican Party on notice

November 9, 2018

On an Election Day that saw Republicans get crushed in the state, including seeing an 18-18 Senate split turn to 24-12 Democratic dominance, state Sen. Heather Somers emerged from the smoking wreckage with a stronger position in the party.

And she wasted no time pointing that out.

On Wednesday afternoon I conducted a phone interview with Somers, who told me she hadn’t slept since election night. The bench for candidates to run for major office in coming years is getting thin on the Republican side, what with all these losses. I wanted to toss around with Somers my thought that, having proved she could win on a losing night, her profile in the party must be on the rise.

She was way ahead of me.

Her campaign already had been busy putting together numbers to make the case that Republicans, with their near-death experience, should see the future and it is named Somers.

The 52-year-old senator, still full of energy, outlined for me the headwinds she had faced in winning re-election to a second term in the 18th District, with data to back it up. I hung up wondering if I had just heard the start of the 2022 gubernatorial campaign.

Indeed, about an hour later a news release from the campaign arrived in my inbox.

“Amid an otherwise dismal night for Connecticut Republicans, Senator Heather Somers won a convincing victory in a quintessential swing district ... that bucked a Democratic sweep of tight contests and offered the GOP a roadmap for winning in the state,” it read.

The release noted that Somers did better on election night than Republican candidates in eight Senate districts that had less formidable voter registration numbers than she faced.

Of course that could either be read, “Somers crushed it” or “Boy, the rest of you Republicans are losers.” This look-at-me approach will reinforce the opinion of some in the party hierarchy that Somers can be rather politically self-serving.

But you know what? I don’t think she cares. She worked hard, she won, they lost and the party faithful are sick of losing. So tough if your feelings are hurt.

To drive the point home, the Somers’ campaign provided the numbers. In the 26th District, Sen. Toni Boucher lost in an area with roughly equal Republican and Democratic registrations. Republican Sen. Mike McLachlan lost in the 24th District where Democrats held a 12 percent registration advantage, not as steep as what Somers faced. What is wrong with you people?

Somers, the campaign noted (gloated?), won despite a nearly 16 percent disadvantage, including about 23 percent more registered Democrats in the eight-town district’s largest towns: Groton and Stonington.

The numbers are a bit deceiving. Two district towns, Griswold and Plainfield, respectively show 13 percent and 20 percent Democratic registration advantages. In reality, they are conservative towns that went with Donald Trump in 2016. Their registration numbers are more a product of their working-class, mill village pasts than a reflection of current sentiment.

Still, Somers’ win was impressive. She kept her losses low in Groton and Stonington and won elsewhere, taking the election by 3,000 votes, 10 percentage points. She faced a strong candidate in Bob Statchen, a law professor and Air Force veteran. Opposition groups were organized. And they were energized by disdain for Trump.

Somers had an effective first term in office. It’s why she won this newspaper’s endorsement. And the senator effectively ran on that record. Her ground game was a good one, unlike too many other Republican campaigns.

Somers is emerging as a force in the party. And she’s not going to let anyone forget it.

Paul Choiniere is the editorial page editor.

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