Dan Haar: How did Lamont trounce Stefanowski? Here's the breakdown

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On the first Tuesday of October, with Gov. Ned Lamont's re-election campaign in overdrive, he trekked to the small eastern Connecticut dairy farming town of Ellington for a discussion on agriculture alongside Jaime Foster, the local state representative who had served on the state's milk promotion board. 

Farming? Few took notice in the state's urban corridors. For good measure, that same day Lt. Gov. Susan Bysiewicz put out news of a $443,856 state grant to Ellington for an electric vehicle charging station and a park. 

It was all part of Lamont's effort to show voters the governor cared about small towns. And based on my close look at returns from Tuesday's elections, the strategy worked. 

Towns such as Ellington -- not rich, thinly developed -- form the Republican heartland where GOP candidates such as Bob Stefanowski, Lamont's now-twice-vanquished opponent, count on high vote margins. That did happen in 2018, sending Stefanowski to within 3 percentage points of an upset win over Lamont. 

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Biggest gainers

Here are the towns that gave Lamont the largest additional vote margins over Stefanowski on Election Day, compared with 2018:

Greenwich: 5,937

Fairfield: 4,813

Milford: 3,980

West Hartford: 3,779

Glastonbury: 3,735

Southington: 3,177

Darien: 3,031

Cheshire: 2,916

Westport: 2,868

Simsbury: 2,865

source: CT Secretary of the State

Ellington gave Lamont just 37.5 percent of its ballots four years ago, handing Stefanowski a margin of 1,403 votes. In this year's rematch, the town of 16,000 still backed Stefanowski. But turnout was lower, the tally was much closer and the Republican came away with a margin of just 325 votes. 

Multiply that over 100 small towns and it starts to add up. 

And the rich towns? Off the charts. Lamont's turnaround there was astounding, driving his hometown of Greenwich, Stefanowski's hometown of Madison and almost all of Fairfield County into the blue. 

All was not high-speed racing for the incumbent governor. He hit some bumps in the bigger cities and in some of the towns with a large Black and Latino population as turnout fell deeply.

Stefanowski had declared a goal of cutting into Lamont's wide margins in the cities. We didn't believe it would happen. It did, fueling the GOP's nationwide hope of idling the Democratic Party's urban machine. 

But it was not nearly enough, as the cities still delivered large gains for Lamont, if smaller than in 2018.

Overall, Lamont expanded his 44,000-vote win of 2018 to a cushion of 158,000, or 12.5 percent age points, on Tuesday. His tally of 709,000 as of early Friday stood just short of former Gov. M. Jodi Rell's 710,000-vote performance in 2006, the only other total over 700,000 for a governor. 

Turnout was down by 137,000, a decline of nearly 10 percent, from 65.2 percent of registered voters casting ballots in 2018 to 57.6 percent this year. 

Before we dive into the details, a couple of notes. First, I'm comparing Lamont-Stefanowski 2018 to Lamont-Stefanowski 2022, but many of the same patterns hold true for other Connecticut races. Republicans vying for statewide and Congressional seats this year generally landed between 40 percent and 45 percent, with Stefanowski and running mate state Rep. Laura Devlin of Fairfield at 43 percent. 

Second, this analysis, with help from my colleagues Taylor Johnston, Matt Rocheleau and John Moritz, is based on the numbers as of Thursday afternoon. The tally has inched up but not enough to change the patterns. 

The cities fall

Lamont racked up 60,000 more votes than Stefanowski in the eight cities over 70,000 population.  But that was down by a nearly third from his 90,000-vote margin in those same cities in 2018.

What happened? Stefanowski told me two weeks ago he could cut into Lamont's 2018 lead of 40,000 votes in Bridgeport and New Haven alone by 5,000 to 10,000 votes in both cities. He exceeded the goal, reducing his loss in those two cities by 18,000, and by another 6,000 in Hartford. 

Stefanowski did improve his share of the eight largest cities to 32 percent from 29 percent as he talked about growing up in New Haven. But the bulk of the action was in lower turnout. Those cities -- Stamford, Waterbury, Norwalk, Danbury and New Britain in addition to the three I mentioned -- saw a slide of 52,000, or 23 percent, as of Thursday.  More votes came in as of early Friday but the urban decline is likely to end up around 20 percent, twice the statewide rate.  New Haven was down 38 percent as of Thursday. 

The reasons: Lamont's ground game in cities was not what it was four years ago, or perhaps enthusiasm waned amid inflation. Lamont's refusal to raise taxes on rich residents helped him in Greenwich but might have cost him in the urban neighborhoods. We're also seeing a national trend of Republicans vying for cities. Even former President Donald Trump saw gains in Connecticut cities in 2020 compared with 2016. 

Stefanowski sent out controversial mailers to Democrats in Hartford, New Haven and Bridgeport in the waning days of the campaign. One showed an aerial view of Lamont's Greenwich mansion with an arrow saying "Lamont lives here," and an arrow pointing to headlines about homicides, saying, "you live here."  Another made it clear that Lamont is being sued for racial discrimination in the firing of a Black commissioner. (No evidence of discrimination has emerged publicly.)

It was classic suppression advertising, designed to keep voters away from the polls.

The Republican heartland

The 83 small towns under 22,000 people that are not in the top 50 in income – Stefanowski’s heartland – gave the Madison Republican a margin of 40,000 votes in 2018.  That cushion dropped to just 2,100 this year, as Lamont reversed nearly all the small-town bleeding.  

Turnout did drop in these small, middle-class and low-income towns, but only by 5 percent. Stefanowski lost 20,000 votes off his 2018 tally of 177,000 and Lamont gained nearly as much, pushing his share of those GOP heartland towns to 49 percent.

This group of roughly half the state's municipalities was remarkably consistent. In all except one of them, Willington, the margin changed in Lamont's favor, regardless of which man won the town. Essex, Old Saybrook, Deep River, Westbrook and Clinton, all in Middlesex County, all boosted their margins for Lamont by more than 18 percentage points. 

Lamont even made hefty gains in the Naugatuck Valley GOP strongholds of Derby, Seymour and Beacon Falls.

Rich man, rich towns, rich rewards

Noplace was Lamont's performance more stunning than in the richest 25 towns by median household income. The governor won just seven of these bullion bastions in 2018, losing 18. On Tuesday, he lost just five -- including two, Bethany and Warren, by less than 20 votes as of Thursday. 

In all, the tony 25 moved from giving Stefanowski an extra 12,400 votes to handing Lamont a margin of 32,347, an astounding turnaround of 45,000 votes with just 219,000 voters.  The governor's hometown of Greenwich, largest of the 25, gave Lamont a 4,500-vote cushion after Stefanowski bested him there by 1,500 votes in 2018.  Greenwich is sending its first-ever all-Democratic delegation to the state House and its Senate seat was in a recount as of Friday. 

Why the turnaround? "My cynical side says that everybody in these towns realized Lamont is not coming after their money," said Eric Paradis, a former Democratic town chairman in Newtown, who's still on the local committee.  Paradis added that residents of the wealthier towns tended to agree with Lamont on social issues and appreciated his handling of the pandemic. 

Places such as the Gold Coast, the Farmington Valley and Shoreline East are home to old-line Republicans (I'm thinking of the other prominent Bob in Madison) who are now politically homeless. Stefanowski is hardly a right-wing Republican but he lost many of the old-liners by appealing to cultural conservatives on vaccinations, COVID shutdowns and education. Lamont held the middle at the expense of a few far-left votes that he didn't need.

Turnout went up where?

Kudos to Sterling for pushing up its turnout by 5.7 percent, the largest boost in the state -- a total of 75 additional votes. In all, only 13 towns saw an increase in turnout from 2018, and only two of those had more than 10,000 residents. The average population of those towns was 6,850 and the baker's dozen produced a whopping 966 extra votes.

Lamont gained 4,000 votes in those towns compared with his 2018 total. Stefanowski lost 1,000. If you're doing the math at home, the missing 2,000 went to minor party candidates in 2018, mainly the late Oz Griebel.

Flip me some change

Stefanowski won 120 towns in 2018. Lamont flipped 44 of those into his camp on Tuesday, notably Greenwich and his opponent’s hometown of Madison. The list includes ten of the 20 richest towns. Fascinating flippers include Ansonia, Trumbull and Bridgewater.

The most dramatic: Darien went from 63-36 Stefanowski to 53-47 Lamont, a swing of 3,000 votes -- with just 9,000 voters.

Among the 49 cities and towns in the Lamont column four years ago, Stefanowski flipped none on Tuesday.

A troubling racial trend?

In the large towns and small cities of 35,000 to 62,000 residents that are not in the top 50 in income, Lamont saw his margins more than triple. I call these the industrial powerhouses: Groton, Stratford, East Hartford, Middletown, Bristol, you get the picture. Perhaps notably, the only two towns in that group where Lamont’s margins decreased – East Hartford and Hamden – are the only two with a Black population over 10,000.  

That, along with the collapse in turnout in cities, raises questions about Lamont’s support among minority voters, especially in Black communities. He lost vote margins in all eight of the cities over 70,000 (most of them predominantly Black an Latino).

Lamont also saw his total vote margins slip in five of the eight smaller cities and towns with a minority population of 45 percent to 70 percent: Bloomfield, New London and Windham in addition to East Hartford and Hamden. And he added few votes in the other three.

The reason was strictly turnout; Lamont added to his percentage gains in all eight of those communities. Still, turnout matters. It's a complex picture; other cities and towns with significant minority populations, such as Manchester and Stratford, added votes for Lamont.   

The question is worth more reporting as we examine the re-election of a governor who morphed from unpopular to a crowd favorite in his first four years on the job.