By SUSAN HAIGH
HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) _ Connecticut Democrats’ ramped-up get-out-the-vote operation _ similar to operations already in swing states _ was credited for helping Gov. Dannel P. Malloy win this year’s close election in a tough year for the party.
Now, the Democrats are trying to determine whether it could be a model for future races, which could make life more challenging for Connecticut Republicans.
Even though the GOP was successful in getting its voters to the polls last Tuesday _ the party cites a 7 percent increase in GOP turnout from 2010 _ Republicans in Connecticut have seen their share of the state’s registered voters decline since the years when former Republican Govs. John G. Rowland and M. Jodi Rell won the office.
“To win statewide in Connecticut, as a Republican, is a challenge, particularly against an incumbent Democrat,” said GOP gubernatorial candidate Tom Foley, the day after he lost his bid for the office for a second time.
This year, Republicans made up 20.8 percent of eligible voters, slightly more than the 20.4 percent in 2010. In 1994, the year of Rowland’s first win, Republicans comprised 25.9 percent of the state’s total registered voters.
Democrats have seen a slight decline as well, with more people over the years choosing to register as unaffiliated, which has become the state’s largest voting bloc. In this year’s election, 36.4 percent of registered voters were Democrats while 41.7 percent were unaffiliated.
Foley contends that the Democrats’ plan was to make negative attacks throughout the campaign to turn people off from casting ballots, especially unaffiliated voters.
“That gins up their base and it turns off unaffiliated voters,” Foley said.
Democratic officials argue their program was focused on getting people, especially traditional Democratic voters, engaged in the election.
Jonathan Harris, executive director of the Connecticut Democrats, said the party started thinking more than a year ago about how to create a massive, structured field organization, similar to what has been seen in so-called battleground states.
“The governor said it was going to be a tough election, a close election, way back. And we knew it,” Harris said.
“The ground game was there because we knew it was going to structurally be a tough year for Democrats,” Harris added. “And if you saw some of the politics in the nation, what was happening in the U.S. Senate, we knew it was going to be tough.”
Election results reported by The Associated Press found Malloy won by nearly 30,000 votes out of a little more than 1 million cast Tuesday. In 2010, Malloy defeated Foley by 6,404 votes out of 1.1 million cast.
Harris said the 2014 operation focused on identifying more volunteers who would make phone calls and knock on doors to get others engaged in the race. He called it “a really cool mix of old-fashioned shoe leather politics with modern technology” to help the party target voters.
The party also sent a “voter report card” to Democrats to show their voting attendance rate, something done in other states. The mailer warned: “we will be reviewing these records after the election to determine whether or not you have joined your neighbors in voting.”
Also, with ramped up fundraising, the party hired much more staff. Harris said more than 50 people, working on communications, data, research and field operations, were employed by the party. In past years, the number was fewer than 10.
Zak Sanders, communications director for the Connecticut Republicans, said the GOP has a lot of the same technology. He said the election of 19 freshman Republicans to the state House of Representatives _ for a net increase of 10 seats _ shows the party’s get-out-the-vote efforts worked.
“We definitely got the job done in turning out our voters,” said Sanders, adding how registering new Republicans and appealing to unaffiliated voters will always be a main goal for the party. He questioned whether the party’s get-out-the-vote effort was to blame for Foley’s loss, declining to speculate on why the Greenwich businessman was defeated.
“So much of our success,” he said, “comes down to how we make our case.”