A majority of the Democratic incumbent lawmakers facing primary challenges in Tuesday's voting appeared to have pulled out victories over their opponents, including some involved in high-profile General Assembly races in Hartford, Bridgeport and Norwalk.
According to unofficial results and reports from some candidates, incumbent victors included Andres Ayala in Bridgeport's 23rd Senatorial District, Linda Orange in eastern Connecticut's 48th House District, and two Norwalk-area lawmakers, Chris Perrone in the 137th House District and Bruce Morris in the 140th House District.
But not all the incumbents survived their Democratic primaries. In the Bridgeport region, Anthony Musto lost his bid to return to represent the 22nd Senate District, and Christina Ayala lost to a challenger in the 128th House District.
In the 2nd Senate District in the Hartford area, long-time incumbent Eric Coleman declared victory over Hartford Council President Shawn Wooden, who conceded defeat.
Voters were deciding primary contests in 18 different legislative districts Tuesday. In eight of those races, Democratic incumbents were facing challenges from within their own parties. Only five primaries involved Republicans and no GOP incumbents were at risk.
All 187 House and Senate seats in the General Assembly are up for grabs in this year's election. But 50 of those district races are rated as "uncontested" because one or the other of the major political parties decided not to run a candidate. In the General Assembly, as in Congress, the reelection rate for incumbents is well over 90 percent.
Most legislative primaries in Connecticut are decided on very local issues and which candidate can bring out the most supporters on a Tuesday in August. Voter turnout in mid-summer primaries in Connecticut are normally very low and relatively small numbers of voters can swing the results one way or another.
In the Senate district covering portions of Hartford, Bloomfield and Windsor, Coleman was facing a challenge from Shawn Wooden, president of Hartford city council, and Len Walker, a former Windsor town council member.
Another Hartford incumbent, Rep. Doug McCrory, easily won against his Democratic challenger, community activist Donna Thompson-Daniel.
Bridgeport alone had four General Assembly primaries Tuesday, with Democratic contests for two Senate nominations and two House nominations.
In the 23rd Senate District, Andres Ayala easily won against primary challenger Scott Hughes, Bridgeport's city librarian. The district includes portions of Bridgeport and Stratford.
"The key was old-fashioned canvassing, knocking on doors every day… and being able to deliver the resources and the necessary dollars for development," Ayala said.
The other Bridgeport-area Senate contest Marilyn Moore, a political activist who lost her primary bid in 2008 against Anthony Musto, defeated Musto this time around. Unofficial returns indicated the incumbent, Musto, received 1,529 votes to Moore's 1,604. The 22nd Senate District covers Trumbull and portions of Bridgeport and Monroe.
"I had very broad-based support," Moore said, explaining that she had strong advocates in all three of the district's communities. "They wanted change and they made it happen," she said.
In the 124th House District, challenger Andre Baker defeated Ernie Newton, a former state senator who spent five years in prison for accepting bribes and other corruption crimes. The attempted comeback by Newton, who was the party endorsed candidate, was one of the most closely watched General Assembly races in this primary season.
In Bridgeport's 128th House District, incumbent Christina Ayala went down to defeat against the party endorsed candidate, Christopher Rosario. Unofficial returns (not including absentee ballots) indicated that Rosario won with 324 votes, with Attorney Dennis Bradley coming in second with 176, Ayala third with 94 votes, and Teresa Davidson, a retired corrections officer, coming in last with 92 votes..
Christina Ayala has been the target of various court actions, and is now the subject of a state investigation into allegations she was using a false address while voting, campaigning and accepting public campaign financing. Rosario said he believes the fact that he didn't launch any harsh attacks against Ayala helped him win.
"I think I ran a positive, above-board campaign… My campaign was about building our community up," Rosario said, adding that attacking Ayala was unnecessary because "We knew there was a negative sentiment against her."
In Norwalk's 137th House District, challenger David Watts, a city councilman, won the local party endorsement against incumbent state Rep. Christopher Perone, but Perone used the caucus defeat as motivation and cruised to a win, 467 to 268, without absentee ballots. Watts, who worked in former Norwalk Mayor Alex Knopp's administration, focused on local job creation and school funding.
Perone, assistant majority leader, said, "I knew I had to work had to make my case. In a way, losing the endorsement help me to focus my message to the voters."
Norwalk state Rep. Bruce Morris got his party's endorsement for the 140th House District – and then won handily over Warren Pena, 571-210, without absentee ballots. Pena, a former city councilman and now chairman of the South Norwalk Community Center, waged a spirited campaign, portraying Morris as out of touch and missing in action.
"I'm grateful to the voters who came out in large numbers for a primary," said Morris. "The voters made a statement, and they validated my record, even though someone tried to disparage my name."
In Colchester, Lebanon, Mansfield and Windham, nine-term incumbent Rep. Linda Orange easily outdistanced newcomer Jason Paul, 724-313, without absentee ballots from Lebanon. Paul had worked to make gun-control an issue in the primary.
Orange, who has made constituent services a priority in her career, voted against gun-control legislation arising from the Sandy Hook school shooting in December 2012 -- earning high marks from the National Rifle Association. Paul chastised Orange, but she said she didn't support the bill – which passed – because it didn't address mental health and gun ownership. Paul's focus on the gun debate had earned him the support of Connecticut Voters for Gun Safety.
"She had a lot of support for her record and for what she was able to accomplish for the new towns in the district in just two years," said Orange campaign manager Tim Bergin.
Another hot Democratic contest developed in the 20th Senate District, Rep. Elizabeth Ritter defeated her challenger, William Satti. The district covers New London and all or portions of seven other southeastern Connecticut towns. The retirement of long-time Sen. Andrea Stillman opened the door to a wide-open contest.
The 32nd House District covering Portland and Cromwell, the party-endorsed candidate, Kathleen Richards, defeated challenger Anthony Salvatore. The district's incumbent is Republican Christie Carpino.Copyright © 2015, CT Now