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Winner or loser, Bumgardner is a harbinger of Connecticut politics

Monday's mayoral Democratic primary election in the City of Groton was certainly a squeaker, with challenger Aundre Bumgardner edging out a two-term incumbent by just five votes.

I am hoping Bumgardner's lead holds through Friday's mandatory recount. With no Republican challenger, the Democratic winner will become mayor.

But even if Bumgardner finally loses, his strong showing was a triumph and I would suggest a harbinger of things to come.

It was a fascinating race, not just for the peek into the weeds of Groton politics but also for what it portends for the bigger political picture across the state.

First, I am delighted at the prospect of a person of color ascending to this prominent leadership role in the region.

And I say that as an old white guy like the one Bumgardner beat. It feels like a fitting cap to the tumultuous year we just went through, and I am not referring to the pandemic.

Of course, we should all be cautious not to read too much into a single race. Surely a lot of the surprise outcome in Groton this week can be attributed to the unique aspects of this contest and these candidates.

Bumgardner, first elected to the General Assembly at the age of 20, is a tireless campaigner who burns up a lot of shoe leather. And a lot of old city politics surfaced in this race, going back to the incumbent's support of the strange deal selling the municipality's valuable cable television system on the cheap.

But I believe that this mayoral primary also reflects the start of some seismic shifts in Connecticut politics that bring home what's happening in the country.

The turnout in Groton this week for a primary is a reminder of what we saw not long ago in the Georgia runoff Senate elections, that expanding and motivating the voter base can be transformative.

Bumgardner's appeal to a wider spectrum of voters in Groton made a difference. And kudos to him for trying to bring more voters into the system.

One of the strangest compliments of the incumbent I read was that two terms of his administration were scandal free. Honestly, if that's how low the bar has become, then hurrah for change.

One prominent line of attack on 26-year-old Bumgardner was that he is a "career politician" in the making. I just find it hard to imagine how people can criticize someone for dedicating the energy of their youth toward making their community and government better.

We only want leaders who are looking for a retirement gig of doing something new?

This is at the heart of what I see as the excitement in this week's primary, a shakeup in which a wider spectrum of more diverse and young voters make their voices heard and demand more from the system than a lack of scandal.

And that's the old white guy talking.

I expect and hope to see a lot more of it. We could use more energetic idealistic young career politicians in the making, not fewer.

I believe Bumgardner is also a harbinger of shifting national and state politics for the way he symbolizes the breakdown of the Republican Party.

Bumgardner began his political life as a Republican but switched parties after Donald Trump said there were good people on both sides of the white supremacist demonstration in Charlottesville.

He tangled with local Republicans during the 2020 election cycle when he equated support for Trump with racism. Incredibly, that GOP attack against him surfaced during the Democratic primary in Groton, but it apparently didn't help deliver a knockout punch against the person of color challenging a white incumbent.

Republicans aren't even competing in the Groton mayoral race. Things in the party are that bad.

With Republican voters changing registration affiliation in the wake of the Trump-inspired insurrection, it's hard to imagine many more won't express themselves similarly at the polls. Connecticut Republicans seem incapable of developing a strategy for addressing Trumpism.

It looks like Bumgardner is the leading edge of defection.

If he doesn't become mayor, he's not going anywhere. And there are more like him on the way.

This is the opinion of David Collins.

d.collins@theday.com

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