By PAT EATON-ROBB, Associated Press
HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) _ Republicans are focusing on two open seats as they try to make inroads in the Connecticut state Senate, which Democrats have controlled since 1996.
Democrats sit in 22 of the 36 seats in the upper chamber and are not expected to lose that majority in the election next month. But state Republican party chairman Jerry Labriola Jr. said the convergence of a couple of key Democratic retirements and a poor economy has him hopeful.
“That would certainly create a backdrop for the voters to consider an alternative to Democrat one-party rule,” he said. “It is undeniable that the Democrat party owns Connecticut’s bad economy.”
The GOP sees its biggest opportunity in the 19th District, where Democrat Edith Prague of Columbia is retiring after 18 years.
Prague’s endorsement helped Sprague first selectman Cathy Osten beat the party’s endorsed candidate, State Rep. Tom Reynolds, in the Democratic primary.
Osten is now in a heated battle with Republican State Rep. Chris Coutu of Norwich who beat her, 57 percent to 43 percent, two years ago to gain his House seat.
“He didn’t have a record to run on in 2010,” Osten said. “This is a different race.”
Coutu is known as a fiscal conservative and gained notoriety for being the only member of the House to vote against Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s $1.1 billion jobs bill.
Prague called him an ultra-right wing “fringe” politician, who does not know how to compromise on anything.
“I would be so upset if he takes this seat,” she said. “He scares me. Did you know in the House they call him Cuckoo Coutu?”
Coutu dismisses the name calling and said he simply votes for fiscal responsibility.
“People in Hartford are not used to someone questioning anything they do,” he said. “They are so used to having unopposed power, that when people start questioning them, they just start knocking them and defaming them.”
Republicans also are targeting the 33rd District, where Democrat Eileen Dailey is retiring.
That is a three-way race among Democratic State Rep. James Crawford of Westbrook, Republican Art Linares of Westbrook and Green Party candidate Melissa Schlag, who clashed with Dailey over a proposed land exchange between Connecticut and developers in Haddam.
The GOP is hoping the liberal vote will be split between Crawford and Schlag, who has received the endorsement of The Day of New London.
“I think it’s pretty obvious that votes Melissa gets will be votes that I don’t get,” Crawford said. “She won’t be taking any votes away from the Republican.”
Schlag said neither major party is representing the interests of the people, and that’s why she is in the race.
“I’ve heard from so many people on the Democratic side that, `Oh I’m going to waste my vote if I vote for you,”’ Schlag said. “My response has always been that a wasted vote is a vote not cast or a vote cast for someone you do not want.”
Democratic Party chairwoman Nancy DiNardo said she expects her party to retain both Senate seats and said she would not be surprised Democrats adds a few to their majority.
She points out that Republicans also are fighting to keep an open seat in the 30th District, where State Sen. Andrew Roraback has left to run for Congress. Democrat Bill Riska, of Winsted is facing state Rep. Clark Chapin of New Milford for that seat.
Democrats also expect tight races in the 13th District, where Meriden councilwoman Dante Bartolomeo, a Democrat, is challenging incumbent Republican Len Suzio; and it the 34th District race between incumbent Republican state Sen. Leonard Fasano and popular former Democratic state Rep. Steven Fontana.
DiNardo also dismissed Labriola’s assertion that voters will blame local Democrats for the poor economy.
“We are in the mess that we’re in, in the state and the nation, because of Republican leadership, eight years under George W. Bush and in Connecticut 20 years under (Governors) Rowland and Rell,” she said. “I think voters in this state are smart enough to realize it’s going to take more than four years to recover from that.”
(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)