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Somers secures second term in 18th Senate District

November 7, 2018

Groton — Republican state Sen. Heather Somers managed a victory Tuesday in the 18th Senate District, defeating her Democratic challenger, Bob Statchen of Stonington, a law professor and Air Force veteran waging his first campaign for elected office.

The 52-year-old Somers won a second term by a 3,000-vote margin, her campaign staff announced shortly after 9 p.m. at The Spot Cafe, where Somers finally appeared about 9:25. With results from one voting district in Plainfield still outstanding, unofficial totals showed Somers with 18,645 votes to Statchen’s 15,645 votes, according to the Somers campaign.

Somers, a former Groton Town mayor and councilor and a 2014 candidate for lieutenant governor, won her Senate seat for the first time two years ago, besting Democrat Timothy Bowles of Preston. Before that, Democrat Andrew Maynard of Stonington had held the seat for five terms.

“It means the world to me that you are all here,” Somers told her supporters. “This shows that when you are a Republican and you work hard for your district, you can win against all odds. We’ve been running against Washington politics and a well-funded campaign against us. I’d like more Republicans to duplicate what we did. The future of our state depends on it.”

Earlier, she said her day started in Pawcatuck and included stops at polling places throughout Groton before she headed north, intending to visit all of the district’s eight towns. She said that between May and November, she personally knocked on some 7,000 doors in the district.

“My message has been consistent from Day One,” she said. “It’s been about tolls, taxes and getting people back to work.”

Like many Republican candidates, Somers opposes the reinstatement of highway tolls and tax increases as answers to the state’s fiscal woes. She stopped short of embracing GOP gubernatorial candidate Bob Stefanowski’s plan to phase out the state income tax.

Somers said her fiscal conservatism played well among blue-collar Democrats in her district’s northern towns, including Plainfield and Sterling in Windham County and Griswold and Voluntown in New London County. Some people, she said, were unaware of state Republicans’ success in rolling back taxes on Social Security benefits and pensions.

“One 87-year-old man told me that knowing that, he might not have to move down south,” Somers said.

The district’s other towns are Preston and North Stonington.

During her first term, Somers championed legislation that brought greater accountability to the Connecticut Municipal Electric Energy Cooperative following a scandal and helped expose abuse at the Whiting Forensic Hospital, a state-run mental health facility.

She pushed a bill lowering the state sales tax on boats and opposed the state’s ban on bump stocks, devices that convert semiautomatic rifles into automatic weapons.

Outside Preston Town Hall, Statchen, 50, said during the day that he was satisfied with his campaign, which he acknowledged was an uphill battle from the start. He said his research found that in the 18th District, no incumbent has been defeated since at least as far back as the late 1990s.

“I thought there was a path to victory and that it was worth pursuing — so I did,” he said. “I put my shoulder to it.”

He said the 18-18 party split in the state Senate motivated him to enter the race, as did what he called the Republicans’ affinity for “trickle-down” economics.

A clinical law professor at Western New England University School of Law in Springfield, Mass., Statchen directs the school’s Small Business Clinic, which pairs students with entrepreneurs and small business owners. Previously, he practiced law with a New London firm and taught business and military law at the Coast Guard Academy.

Somers also has a business background, having helped found a Willimantic-based medical device manufacturer before entering politics.

Turnout was high throughout the district.

In Groton, unaffiliated voter Jaime Ashcraft, 39, said she voted for Somers because she appeared “level-headed” and was willing to “vote how she feels” on an issue, rather than merely toe the party line.

“With everything going on, it’s crazy,” Ashcraft said, meaning the political climate in general. “By not voting, you are voting.”

Jaime Perez, 57, another Groton voter, said he voted for Democratic candidates “across the line,” as he has since arriving in the country from El Salvador some 30 years ago.

b.hallenbeck@theday.com

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