These are dark days for Democrats, but they may seem a lot brighter by Election Day.
With Connecticut’s U.S. Senate seat suddenly in play and a host of Republican challengers across the country leading in the polls, city GOP officials are increasingly giddy about their chances in the November 2 general election.
“People are feeling more connected to us now and they trust us,” said Whit Betts, the GOP candidate for the 78th District state House seat.
But Democrats are counting on voters to remember that Republicans have “sat on the sidelines” for years while their party pushed to improve the lives of America’s hard-pressed middle class.
“I don't believe Democrats will be taken down as harshly as everyone claims. The people will ultimately realize the good we have done,” said Christopher MacNeill, a Bristol Central High School sophomore who’s active in Democratic politics.
City Democratic leader Elliott Nelson said there’s a lot of talk of his party having “a bad year,” but he thinks that local candidates are in good shape.
“When it’s all said and done, we’re going to hold our seats and we’re going to probably pick up” the 78th District, where two veteran politicians are facing off for an open state House seat.
But Republicans say they can win 78th and the 31st District state Senate seat that Democrat Tom Colapietro has held for 18 years. They also hope to snag the 77th District seat that first-term state Rep. Chris Wright is trying to defend.
“We’re going to do something very special here in Bristol,” said T.J. Barnes, who chairs the city’s GOP.
City Councilor Ken Cockayne said that traipsing along with the Republicans' U.S. Senate contender, Linda McMahon, "was like walking with a superstar."
He said that Bristol residents -- who tend to be blue-collar and Democratic -- showed real support for the former wrestling executive as she hoofed it for a few hours Sunday during Bristol's Mum Parade.
Betts said that after watching McMahon at the parade he thinks she has "a legitimate shot at being able to win Bristol" on Election Day.
"She's inspired a lot of people" with her personal story of rising from bankruptcy to riches, he said, while keeping that common touch.
Democrats said that Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, who is trying to fend off McMahon for the Senate seat, also received a warm welcome as he marched in front of the American Legion banner. They said he remains popular.
Barnes said he sees "a new energy" in the party that is going to translate into victories at the polls that would not have seemed possible a few years ago.
A McMahon victory in Bristol would be a big step toward a statewide win for the Senate seat that Democrat Chris Dodd is giving up.
Blumenthal has been steadily sinking in the polls, unable so far to combat McMahon's millions or find the key to secure support from voters who once backed him routinely.
Barnes said that it's even more encouraging that his party has such strong local candidates, running for the state legislature, that they can not only win themselves, they can even help pull in votes for Republicans seeking statewide office.
But Colapietro, a Bristol Democrat, said the GOP is offering the same old tired arguments that it has long trotted out – and that voters have consistently rejected. He said he’s not worried.
Wright said he’s been knocking on many doors and working hard to earn another term in Hartford.
But even Nelson concedes the Republicans are doing better than usual.
“For the first time in a long time, they have some viable candidates,” Nelson said.
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