Sean Scanlon, a rising star in Connecticut Democratic circles, thought the time was right to raise his profile and jump into a statewide race.
The young state representative from Guilford, with encouragement from several party elders, had contemplated a run for comptroller but his hopes were abruptly dashed last week when the current occupant of the office, fellow Democrat Kevin Lembo, announced he was running for reelection.
“I said from the get-go that if Kevin decides to run, I would support him 100 percent,” said Scanlon, who is 30. “The good thing about politics is there’s always another election around the corner.”
For ambitious Democrats looking to move up the ladder, opportunities in the 2018 election cycle are limited. Democrats hold all five congressional seats and none of the current occupants have indicated that they plan to call it quits. Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy, whose term is up next year, is also running again.
Democrats fill every constitutional office in Connecticut. Gov. Dannel P. Malloy announced earlier this year that he will not seek a third term and Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman has not disclosed her plans, but Secretary of the State Denise Merrill and Lembo are running for reelection. Attorney General George Jepsen and Treasurer Denise Nappier have not announced reelection bids, though Jepsen is widely expected to run.
Politicians are often loath to take on incumbents of their own party, leaving members of the next generation to bide their time until a slot opens.
“We have a great bench and I think that’s a good problem to have,” said Matt Lesser, a state representative from Middletown who scrapped his exploratory bid for secretary of the state last month after Merrill announced she was seeking another term. “In fact, I don’t see it as a problem, I see it as a great opportunity.”
Yet at a time when liberal anger over President Donald Trump and his policies has sparked a wave of progressive activism on all levels, some Democratic insiders privately worry that the party’s future stars could grow frustrated if they have nowhere to go.
Nick Balletto, the chairman of the Connecticut Democratic party, said there’s plenty of opportunity on town councils and boards of education as well as at the legislative level. “We’re capturing all that energy that started after the November election and we’re funneling that into boards of selectmen, town councils and town committees all over the state,” he said. “We have our all-stars in the House of Representatives and we certainly need them on our bench.”
Politics has long been a waiting game: Richard Blumenthal was 64 in 2010, the year he finally got his chance to run for U.S. Senate.
Malloy’s announcement earlier this year that he would not seek reelection set off a frenzy of interest among ambitious politicians from both parties. At least four Democrats — former West Hartford Mayor Jonathan Harris, former federal prosecutor Chris Mattei, Bridgeport Mayor Joe Ganim and Middletown Mayor Dan Drew — have announced or are exploring runs for governor.
Until last week, Lembo was among them. But his decision to forgo a gubernatorial bid and instead seek reelection took the comptroller’s office out of play for Democrats.
The logjam on the Democratic side stands in marked contrast to the myriad opportunities available to Republicans in Connecticut, who hold no statewide or congressional posts. “The Democrats’ brand is old ideas and old politicians,’’ said J.R. Romano, chairman of the Connecticut Republican party.
But Ronald C. Schurin, a political scientist at the University of Connecticut, said most of the state’s congressional delegation has been in office for less than a dozen years.
“It’s worth remembering that except for [Rep. Rosa] DeLauro and [Rep. John] Larson, the Democratic incumbents are not people who have served an enormously long time,’’ Schurin said. “It’s not as if we’ve got an ossified delegation. People who are looking to forge careers might remember that every few years seats open up for one reason or another.’’
Scanlon, who plans to run for reelection to the House of Representatives, takes the long view. “It’s our job as a party to ensure we welcome that energy and make sure people feel included,’’ he said. “Our party has a lot of very talented young people in it … people who will have very bright futures. Those of us who are young and involved need to work together to support one another down the road. … We are the future of the party.’’
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