Darien votes for the Democrat for president for first time since 1888

Photo of Erin Kayata
The last Democratic presidential candidate Darien, CT voted for was Grover Cleveland in 1888. Cleveland, the incumbent at the time, lost the election.
The last Democratic presidential candidate Darien, CT voted for was Grover Cleveland in 1888. Cleveland, the incumbent at the time, lost the election.Library of Congress / Contributed Photo

DARIEN — In the presidential election of 1888 Democrat Grover Cleveland won in Darien with 245 votes. Republican and ultimate election winner Benjamin Harrison lost the town by just two votes.

It would be another 128 years before the historically Republican town backed another Democrat for president. This year, Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton received 5,942 votes to President-elect Donald Trump’s 4,625.

While a majority of Darien voters are not registered Republicans, most that are registered under a party are registered Republicans. (Prior to the election, out of 13,715 registered voters, just shy of half were registered Republicans while less than 3,000 were registered Democrats.)

Darien’s allegiance to Republican candidates has fluctuated over the years. In the election of 1948, Democrat Harry S. Truman got 883 votes to Republican Thomas E. Dewey’s 4,319. But in 2012, President Barack Obama lost the town to Republican Sen. John McCain by barely 1,000 votes.

Regardless how close the votes were, 2016 is the first time it tipped over in favor of the Democratic presidential candidate. While a first for Darien, it is a more normal occurrence for Republican communities in Connecticut.

“It’s not at all that unusual for Republicans like those in Fairfield County who are very moderate, to defect,” said Gary Ross, chairman of the department of government, politics and global studies at Sacred Heart University.

“It’s a very moderate brand of Republicanism,” Rose added. “When you get a candidate that seems far to the right on social and moral issues, it would not at all surprise me to see defections to the Democrats.”

According to Republican and First Selectman Jayme Stevenson, Darien voters fall into the moderate Republican category.

“I would say generally Darien is much like I am: We’re fiscally conservative and socially a bit more moderate, especially the women in Darien,” Stevenson said.

“It’s traditionally Republican,” added John J. Visi, Darien’s Republican registrar of voters. “But even if you look at articles nationwide, there are a lot of Republicans that didn’t like the Republican candidate’s comments.”

Visi said that while Darien historically has voted based on party affiliation, presidential candidate selection became a personal matter this year considering the stances of the Republican candidate. Visi also said there were approximately 300 people in Darien who submitted ballots without voting for president.

“It leads me to believe there were some people who didn’t want to vote in this election,” Visi said.

Visi also believes that Republicans’ feelings on their party’s candidate contributed to a lower than anticipated voter turnout. While Election Day predictions placed voter turnout at 90 percent in Darien, only 84.7 percent of registered voters showed up to the polls, which was slightly lower than the 85.5 percent turnout in the 2012 presidential election.

The Darien Republican Town Committee did back Trump, according to RTC chair Brent Hayes. However, Hayes said, the RTC was more focused on local elections, backing candidates like state Rep. Terrie Wood, Greg Ehlers for state senate and Gino Bottino for state senate.

“We certainly did support the Republican candidate on a presidential level, but we’re a local committee and focused on local issues,” said Hayes.

While Darien as a whole backed Clinton for president, the town voted Republican in all the races. Wood, R-141, was the only Republican to actually win as all the other incumbents — all Democrats — were also sent back to the state house.

“Darien supported all Republican candidates for other offices, yet none were ultimately successful because of constituents outside of Darien,” Stevenson said, adding she was disappointed more politicians supported by town residents did not make it to the state house.

Stevenson also said she believes many unaffiliated voters in town voted for Democrats, leading to a Clinton victory in town. Stevenson herself stayed within her party, voting for president based on Republican ideals and policies.

“I didn’t vote for the person, I voted more for the policies ... growing jobs and helping the middle class of America,” Stevenson said. “I believe in capitalism and I really don’t want my children to live their lives in a socialist society,”

“Both candidates had really significant character flaws, so my vote was not at all a vote for some of the terrible things Trump said by any means — it’s more fundamental Republican ideals of smaller government. You’ll see a significant portion of Republicans voted for him,” Stevenson added.

Although Clinton did not win the race, her selection among Darien residents, who otherwise chose Republican candidates, showed a historic deviation in voting patterns for the town.

“I think people were very passionately involved with the choice of who they were going to vote for for president,” Visi said. “It wasn’t party line, but personal preference.”

ekayata@hearstmediact.com; @erin_kayata