Hackett on Politics: Coattails in Norwich Senate race could influence two House races

posted Sep 22, 2012, 11:40 AM by Sam Gilchrist
By: Ray Hackett
The Bulletin

The discussion of coattails is a subject that comes up at election time every year, but rarely materializes.

The coattail effect is when one candidate’s popularity — usually someone higher up on the ballot — helps sweep into office candidates from the same party positioned lower on the ballot.
Are there coattails to be had in this year’s election, and if so, where are they and who benefits?
I think there are, but from the middle of the ballot down.

There are six candidates running for three General Assembly open seats, and they all have one thing in common — Norwich.

The 19th Senate District is the marque race. Winning the city is a must to have any hope at winning. The candidate that wins Norwich likely not only wins the Senate contest, but also will likely influences the outcome in the two House races in Norwich’s 46th and 47th Assembly Districts.

In the 19th, state Rep. Chris Coutu, R-Norwich, and Sprague Democratic First Selectman Catherine Osten are vying to replace retiring state Sen. Edith Prague, D-Columbia. Both are hugely popular, have strong followings of loyal supporters, are fiercely competitive — and they don’t like each other very much.

And they know they need to win Norwich. Their supporters will be out in force, and will likely cast a vote in the underlying House race for the candidate on the same ballot line.

That means that Canterbury Democratic First Selectman Brian Sear and Republican Noah Enslow of Sprague — vying for Coutu’s seat in the 47th — and political newcomers, Democrat Emmett Riley and Republican Mikel Middleton — seeking to replace Riley’s wife, state Rep. Melissa Riley, D-Norwich, in the 46th — are likely to benefit from Coutu’s and Osten’s coattails.
In a close contest, that coattail effect could be the difference between winning and losing.

So who wins Norwich, and has the greater potential influence, Coutu or Osten?
The odds would seem to favor Osten — but it’s an extremely thin advantage.
Democrats hold a 3-1 margin in voter registration, and Osten scored an impressive victory in the city in last month’s Democratic primary.

Coutu, whose legislative district represents only a portion of the city, has only run one city-wide campaign, in 2007, finishing fourth out of nine for one of six City Council seats, and aided slightly by minority representation rules that dictated at least two Republicans automatically win. There were only three on the ballot.

There is a fourth contest in Norwich this year. Redistricting moved a sliver of the city into the 139th Assembly District — but that race is not likely to be impacted, or have much of an impact, on the other contest.

Ray Hackett is The Bulletin’s editorial page editor. He has more than 20 years covering Connecticut politics. He can be reached at (860) 425-4225 or rhackett@norwichbulletin.com.
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