Welch-Collins, Rotella emerge as Democratic nominees in 38th and 43rd District races

Kate Rotella, right, hugs close friend Geraldine Cunningham of Hopkinton, R.I., moments before official results were released announcing her victory over Chris Donahue in the Democratic primary for the state House of Representatives 43rd District, as results are released on Tuesday, Aug. 14, 2018, at the Stonington Town Hall. Rotella's media coordinator, Joe Trelli, looks on in the background. (Tim Martin/The Day)
Kate Rotella, right, hugs close friend Geraldine Cunningham of Hopkinton, R.I., moments before official results were released announcing her victory over Chris Donahue in the Democratic primary for the state House of Representatives 43rd District, as results are released on Tuesday, Aug. 14, 2018, at the Stonington Town Hall. Rotella's media coordinator, Joe Trelli, looks on in the background. (Tim Martin/The Day)

Baird Welch-Collins on Tuesday topped Patrick Murphy and Nick Gauthier in a tight contest for the Democratic nomination for the 38th state House District seat.

In the 43rd District, Stonington Selectwoman Kate Rotella, the endorsed Democrat, fended off a challenge from Chris Donahue, a 29-year-old Pawcatuck resident who had long been involved with the Pawcatuck Fire Department.

Waterford officials say a recount next week is likely in the 38th District race, with unofficial results showing Welch-Collins racking up 617 votes to Murphy's 605 and Gauthier's 448. Officials said an automatic recount is required when fewer than 20 votes separate candidates; the recount likely would occur next Tuesday.

Welch-Collins, 23, is a member of Waterford's Representative Town Meeting and has served as treasurer of the town's Flood and Erosion Control Board for almost three years. He will be a social studies teacher at Norwich Free Academy in the upcoming school year.

If the results hold up, Welch-Collins will face two-term incumbent state Rep. Kathleen McCarty, a Republican, in November. Welch-Collins' father, Bill Collins, ran as a Green Party candidate against McCarty in 2014.

The 38th District encompasses Waterford and part of Montville.

Welch-Collins said the closeness of the race "shows all the candidates did a good job."

"The next step is to reach out to my opponents," he said. "They've been very generous and we need to consolidate our efforts."

Murphy, a nurse manager who leads teams of nurses and medical assistants at three shoreline clinics, said he looked forward "to the final results" after the likely recount.

Murphy said some in the area initially discouraged a primary fight, "but we said we're going to engage our district and come out stronger."

Gauthier, a grass-roots organizer and activist, said, "No matter who wins, I'll make sure a Democrat wins."

Gauthier added he hadn't decided whether he'd run for office again, saying he was focused on moving the state forward on progressive issues, "whether running myself or being an outside activist. As long as we are making progress."

Reached by phone, McCarty said she had visited some area polling locations Tuesday and had "a nice conversation with" Welch-Collins.

"Whoever the winner is, we'll work together toward the benefit of the community," she said a few hours before polls closed. "I like to run a nice, pleasant campaign and I hope it will continue that way."

Volunteers in Montville and Waterford said dozens of unaffiliated and independent voters had shown up to vote without realizing they must be registered as a Republican or Democrat to vote in the primary.

The state saw a surge of more than 242,000 registered voters since Election Day 2016 — nearly triple previous midterm seasons — but half of them were unaffiliated.

Carla Chacho-Blanchard, a moderator at Montville's polling location at Fair Oaks School, encouraged new registrants and people who'd recently changed addresses to double check with their town halls to verify their party membership is up to date. Otherwise, they'll find themselves unable to vote in primaries.

In the 43rd District, state Rep. Diana Urban, a Democrat retiring after nine terms, endorsed Rotella to be her successor, but a group of longtime Stonington Democratic Town Committee members, including former First Selectman Donald Maranell, backed Donahue.

Many voters on Tuesday praised Rotella for her experience and her ideas on education and balancing the budget. Others praised Donahue for his energy and being willing to get out there and push on the issues.

Donahue "is willing to get out there at this age and not let the people who are so traditional stop him from pushing for change,” said Kathryn Noonan of North Stonington, who also praised the candidate as being very approachable. “It’s a very gutsy thing to do, to run for office at this age ... I think it is incredible.”

Jo Robinson of Pawcatuck, who supported Rotella and canvassed for her, praised the value of Rotella's experience, especially dealing with unions in her roles as a purchaser for Waterford and as a selectwoman in Stonington.

“I think she has a lot of ideas on how to keep teachers happy, but also how to balance a budget as well and make some of those hard decisions that not everybody wants to hear,” said Robinson, who is a teacher. “She’s just got a ton of experience... and that will aid her well."

Ultimately, Stonington and North Stonington Democrats opted for Rotella, electing her 943-910 in Stonington and 208-111 in North Stonington, according to unofficial results posted on the Secretary of the State's website.

“I hope you give me the opportunity to earn your support. I want us to all come together and work hard to win the seat for the Democrats,” Rotella said Tuesday night after receiving the Stonington results.

Donahue conceded late Tuesday, saying on his campaign’s Facebook page, “I want to congratulate Kate Rotella on her victory tonight and wish her great success this Fall.”

“I thank all who gave me the honor of their vote and it was a great experience,” he said in the statement.

The Republican candidate for the seat, Shaun Mastroianni, who ran unopposed for his party’s nomination, said he’d had a good day with Rotella and Donahue. “Now that the Democrat Primary is over I look forward to an aggressive and engaging positive race on the issues,” he said in a statement late Tuesday.

c.clark@theday.com

b.kail@theday.com

Baird Welch-Collins, candidate for the 38th District of the state House of Representatives, greets voters driving by as residents cast their ballots at Oswegatchie Elementary School in Waterford's District 3 during the Primary election on Tuesday, Aug. 14, 2018. (Tim Martin/The Day)
Baird Welch-Collins, candidate for the 38th District of the state House of Representatives, greets voters driving by as residents cast their ballots at Oswegatchie Elementary School in Waterford's District 3 during the Primary election on Tuesday, Aug. 14, 2018. (Tim Martin/The Day)

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