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Jahana Hayes wins in 5th District

November 7, 2018

Democrat Jahana Hayes was on her way to making history as Connecticut’s first black congresswoman after defeating the GOP’s Manny Santos in the race for the 5th District.

“You reminded me of how good winning can be,” Hayes told a jubilant crowd of 200 supporters at the Waterbury Marriott on Tuesday. “We are so much better together.”

For Hayes, the 2016 National Teacher of the Year, Tuesday’s victory is not only an exclamation point on a six-month campaign that has received national attention. The midterm win is also the latest triumph in the inspirational story of a poor girl from Waterbury who dropped out of high school at 17 to have a daughter.

Hayes was able to make her personal story of trial and perseverance translate with voters in the 5th District, which stretches from greater Danbury to Massachusetts, and from the New York border to New Britain.

While it was still playing out how Hayes’ victory fit into the bigger midterm election picture on Tuesday night, it seemed clear enough that her progressive platform of Medicare-for-all and a $15 hourly minimum wage resonated with voters in northwest and central Connecticut.

Indeed, Hayes’ positions on immigration, education, gun violence prevention and social justice were in opposition to Santos, a former Marine and one-term mayor of Meriden who ran as a Trump Republican.

Santos, who supported Trump’s hardline on illegal immigration and Trump’s suggestion that school districts should have the option to arm teachers, was not immediately available at American Legion Post 45 in Meriden, where he awaited election results with supporters.

Santos ran a decidedly low-key campaign, raising nowhere near Hayes’ $1.6 million, and relying almost exclusively on social media posts. Santos justified his low-budget strategy, saying Republicans had spent millions in the past on losing campaigns.

That didn’t help Santos earn support from the National Republican Congressional Committee, which didn’t list Santos on any of its rosters of candidates to watch, even though the 5th District was Connecticut’s only open seat, and the GOP’s best chance to break into the state’s all-Democratic Congressional delegation.

Hayes meanwhile ran as a frontrunner from the start, even though she was a first-time candidate. Hayes trounced establishment Democrat Mary Glassman in the primary, in part because of more aggressive fundraising and voter mobilization. Hayes’ upset victory got national attention - and the attention of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which featured Hayes among its highest-tier candidates that deserved national support.

rryser@newstimes.com 203-731-3342

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