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Democratic Sprague First Selectman Cathy Osten won the bitter 19th state Senate District campaign battle over Republican Christopher Coutu to succeed 18-year incumbent Democrat Edith Prague in the 10-town district.
Osten and Coutu spent a nervous evening waiting for numbers that were slow to come in. According to figures collected by Osten's campaign headquarters, she defeated Coutu 19,273 to 18,057, winning six of the 10 towns, including Coutu's hometown of Norwich, which Osten won by 1,770 votes.
Osten's campaign party at TJ's Café in Baltic erupted with cheers and applause at 10 p.m. when the final numbers from Ledyard Center were read aloud. While Coutu took Ledyard by nearly 500 votes, it wasn't enough to overcome Osten's earlier lead.
Osten thanked the packed house of supporters, especially her mother, Pat Osten, and Prague, who endorsed Osten from the start, giving a major boost to her campaign that included a primary victory in August over Ledyard state Rep. Tom Reynolds.
"It was a combination of everything," Osten said of the factors that put her over the top in such a contentious race. "We knocked on over 25,000 doors. We made 65,000 phone calls."
Prague was the first to stand from her seat to hug Osten as she prepared to make her victory speech.
"You'll be sitting in my seat," Prague said.
At 10:15, Coutu called Osten and conceded after a brief conversation.
Coutu said he too worked hard and although disappointed, he will turn his attention to his military service in the National Guard and to his family. Coutu will finish his two-term state House duties in January. He wouldn't rule out future runs for office, but offered no specific plans.
Both candidates had strong ties to Norwich, the largest town in the district. Coutu lives in Norwich and his 47th District encompassed the northern portion of the city. Osten's family ran the popular Pattio's Restaurant on West Town Street for years. But Osten said she was confident all along that she would win Norwich handily, taking all five precincts, including those that included Coutu's district.
The open district campaign proved to be one of the most hotly contested in the region. Coutu and Osten have sparred during several debates, differing on most major issues and each questioning the other's leadership ability.
Both candidates campaigned doggedly, knocking on doors and plastering the district with campaign signs. Coutu bought 50 billboard-sized signs he rotated around at key spots.
"I'm proud of the amount of work my staff and volunteers have put into this campaign," Osten said. "We could not have made this happen without the support of all the Democratic campaigns working throughout the 19th Senate district."