Yeah, I'm talking 2022 already
Sen. Heather Somers’s relatively easy election to a third Senate term in the 18th District keeps her in the discussion for a possible run for the Republican nomination for governor in 2022.
In 2014 Somers demonstrated her organizational and vote-getting ability when she came out of seemingly nowhere to grab the Republican nomination for lieutenant governor by winning the primary. At the time Somers was a member of the Groton Town Council, designated mayor by her fellow councilors in a system really run by the city manager.
Matched with gubernatorial candidate Tom Foley, who was running for a second time against Gov. Dannel P. Malloy after losing to him in 2010, Somers was the more charismatic of the two people on that ticket, though Foley hardly set a high bar. A pairing forced by the primary, there was no chemistry and the Foley campaign never defined a good role for Somers, which was a mistake. Foley lost again, despite Malloy’s low approval ratings.
In 2016, Somers first won election in the 18th, easily defeating Democrat Timothy Bowles for the seat left vacant when Sen. Andrew Maynard, a Democrat, stepped aside for medical reasons. It was a key pickup for Republicans, helping them gain an 18-18 Senate split.
Politically speaking, Somers has fared well since. The majority of voters in her diverse district appear happy with her combination of strong constituent service, loyal-opposition criticism of the Democratic majority, high visibility in the district, and ability to pick the right fights — opposing the proposed state police practice gun range in Griswold and advocating for the marine and commercial fishing industries, for example.
In 2018 she comfortably defeated a strong Democratic candidate in attorney, Air Force veteran and National Guardsman Bob Statchen. In 2020, the party thought a big turnout and anti-Trump feelings could make a second Statchen run successful. Instead, Somers again won, by a margin that was only slightly smaller.
In winning, Somers demonstrated in microcosm what a successful Republican candidate has to do statewide — minimize losses in Democratic strongholds, meaning the cities, then run up the score in the suburbs and rural areas.
In the 18th District, Statchen’s strongholds were Stonington and Groton. In 2018, Statchen defeated Somers in those two towns by 4 percentage points, then doubled the figure in this past election. But Somers more than made up for it in the district’s interior and more conservative towns of Sterling, Plainfield, Griswold, Voluntown, Preston and North Stonington, this year winning them with an average of 62.5% of the vote.
Elsewhere, Republicans have not fared so well, watching Democrats expand their majorities in the Senate to 24 to 12 and in the House to 97-54, just in time for redistricting.
Two years is an eternity in politics. Who knows where things may be in the lead up to the 2022 election. Incumbent Democratic Gov. Ned Lamont has received generally high marks for his handling of the pandemic. But, hopefully, the virus will be largely a bad memory come 2022 and the political debate will refocus on more traditional issues, like the economy, about which the reviews are not so good.
Republicans could do worse than nominating a woman, a proven voter getter in a toss-up district, someone coming from a part of the state — eastern Connecticut — that has been the strongest area for Republicans in recent elections.
The last time a Republican governor came from New London County? From what I found it was Gov. William Alfred Buckingham. A former Norwich mayor and a confidante to Abraham Lincoln, he served 1858-1866.
You could say it has been a while.
Paul Choiniere is the editorial page editor.
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