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Gov. race could decide under-ticket Lembo, Wooden, Merrill win, but AG too close

November 7, 2018

Connecticut’s secretary of the State, comptroller and treasurer offices swung to the Democrats, but the attorney general’s race was too close to call by early Wednesday morning.

Democrats Shawn Wooden, running for state treasurer, and Kevin Lembo, running for state comptroller, declared victory early Wednesday morning.

Democratic Secretary of the State Denise Merrill’s campaign said they were confident in her win, but had not received a call to concede the race from Republican Sue Chapman. Therefore they would not officially declare the race early Wednesday morning.

The attorney general’s race was still too close to call at 1:30 a.m. Wednesday. Some towns still had not reported their election results at that time.

The attorney general’s race is an unusually tight contest that pits Democrat William Tong, one of President Donald Trump’s staunchest critics, against one of Trump’s vocal supporters, Republican Sue Hatfield.

Slim margins are a rarity in Connecticut attorney general races, where in the past five elections Democrats have defeated their Republican opponents by at least 10 points.

Tong has been the state representative for Stamford and Darien for six terms and chaired the General Assembly’s Judiciary Committee. Tong is also a commercial litigator at Finn, Dixon and Herling in Stamford. If elected, Tong will be Connecticut’s first Asian American attorney general.

Hatfield is a state prosecutor from Pomfret, with a master’s of law in taxation. She has also worked as a registered nurse. This was her first run for office.

Like the governor’s race, Hatfield and Tong have linked each other to deeply polarizing figures, Trump and unpopular Gov. Dannel P. Malloy.

Tong has vowed to be a “firewall” against Trump’s policies, whereas Hatfield is a loyal supporter of the president. Hatfield pointed out that Tong was endorsed by Malloy when Tong ran for Stamford mayor in 2013. Tong and Malloy have worked closely in the legislature.

The Connecticut attorney general, a post now held by Democrat George Jepsen, is the state’s top civil litigator.

The secretary of the State and comptroller races were the only two statewide offices that had incumbents seeking re-election.

Secretary of the State Merrill defeated Republican Sue Chapman. Merrill has been secretary of the State since 2011 and served as president of the National Association of Secretaries of State in 2016 and 2017. Chapman is the former first selectman of New Fairfield.

“We have good numbers,” said Jesse Hubbard, Merrill’s campaign manager. “We are very confident.”

In the comptroller’s race, Lembo won over Republican Kurt Miller. Lembo, who became comptroller in 2011, is the first openly gay statewide official elected in Connecticut and spent decades working as a public health advocate. Miller, the first selectman of Seymour, has attacked Lembo as a “rubberstamp” for Malloy.

“Thank you to the voters who have supported the fights I’ve taken on for the people of Connecticut to reduce pharmaceutical costs, to save money on health care, to stop the tax give-aways to multi-million dollar corporations and to bring transparency to state government spending,” said Lembo in a statement. “I’ve always believed that when you get the policy right, the politics will take care of itself, and we’ve seen that again tonight.”

Fighting for the treasurer’s office — an open seat for the first time in 20 years — Democrat Shawn Wooden triumphed over Republican Thad Gray. Wooden had been shown trailing by 20 points in a poll as recently as Friday.

“Did the poll rattle me? No,” said Wooden at 1:30 a.m.. “I’ve been on the campaign trail all year talking to voters in every corner of the state. I know that the energy that I felt was pretty tremenduous. And standing at the polls today all over the state, seeing all that enthusiasm, I was very encouraged.”

“It was very special standing here tonight with this victory,” said Wooden, referring to Dunkin’ Donuts Park in Hartford, a place that became a flash point on the campaign trail between Wooden and Gray, as Gray criticized Wooden for championing the $72 million project at a time when the city was broke.

Wooden, a former Hartford city council president, is an attorney for Day Pitney who assists public pension funds with investments and securities law. Prior to a recent retirement, Gray was chief investment officer for Abbott Capital Management, which oversees private equity investments on behalf of public pension funds. Gray lives in Salisbury.

Each candidate claims they have the right experience to properly run the treasurer’s office, even if they largely agree when it comes to the state’s massive pension debt and growing reliance on borrowing.

Denise Nappier, state treasurer since 1999, is the first African-American woman elected to serve as a State Treasurer in the United States and the first African-American woman elected to a statewide office in Connecticut.

All the underticket candidates spent time campaigning with the top of their ticket in the run up to Tuesday’s election. For Democrats, that was Ned Lamont, a Greenwich cable entrepreneur. For Republicans, it meant time on the trail with Republican Bob Stefanowski, a former UBS and payday loan company executive.

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