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A political scientist says inflation is making for a tight race in CT's 5th Congressional District

Political science professor Bilal Sekou speaks after the Secretary of State debate between Democrat Stephanie Thomas and Republican Dominic Rapini at University of Hartford October 18, 2022.
Mark Mirko
Connecticut Public
Political science associate professor Bilal Sekou speaks after the secretary of the state debate between Democrat Stephanie Thomas and Republican Dominic Rapini at the University of Hartford on Oct. 18, 2022.

With less than a week before Election Day, a poll from WTNH/The Hill/Emerson College shows 5th District Democratic Congresswoman Jahana Hayes trailing Republican challenger George Logan by a percentage point.

In 2020, Hayes beat David X. Sullivan by 11 percentage points. What’s different this time around?

It’s rising consumer prices, according to Bilal Sekou, a University of Hartford associate professor of political science.

Sekou also talked with Connecticut Public Radio's John Henry Smith about the role of the 5th District's demographics and the uncommonly high national assistance Logan is receiving in making the race tight.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

John Henry Smith: Bilal, in 2020 Hayes beat David X. Sullivan by 11 percentage points. What is the difference this time around that has her fighting for her job?

Bilal Sekou: Hayes has this trust struggle on her hands because the economy is bad, inflation is bad. And a lot of people often in the midterm elections will punish the party that's in power. And that happens to be the Democratic Party. And Joe Biden has had some important victories over these last two years. But in the minds of voters today, it's really about the pain that they're feeling economically, that's the reality for them. And so these larger issues that are going on in the world, the fact that Europe is also struggling, especially in the UK, with inflation, and other kinds of problems just doesn't resonate in the minds of people here in Connecticut and the district.

John Henry Smith: How purposeful do you think it was at the state GOP to run a brown person against another brown person to gain this seat?

Bilal Sekou: I think it was a really good move. And in many ways, Logan is not someone who is seen as being on the far extreme as a candidate. You know, he's someone who has at least voiced that he's pro-choice. I've seen a lot of ads that he's run where he has talked about that, and also a lot of ads from outside sources. So I think the other thing that's really interesting about this race is that you have a lot of money coming from outside of the district. And it appears to be having an impact. I mean, they're hitting Hayes with some really negative ads. And at the same time, Logan is running some ads emphasizing his immigrant background. He's emphasizing the problems with the economy that's going on and how that may be impacting people within the district. And so Hayes is, you know, on her heels, trying to fight back the negative ads, and also to get her message out about the role she's played in trying to bring money to the state, whether it's for infrastructure or to deal with some of these problems that people are concerned about with regard to their pocketbook.

John Henry Smith: Is that what the outside money mostly does? Buy ads and ad space time?

Bilal Sekou: Certainly for people who are already leaning towards voting for Logan, these ads just reinforce why they need to do this. It's not that the ads necessarily change minds. But of course, we live in a state where the largest group of voters in the state are unaffiliated. And so these are folks who are persuadable. If you're someone who's already a Democrat, you're probably going to vote for Hayes. For these unaffiliated voters, some of these ads may, in fact, have an impact.

John Henry Smith: How you think the demographics of the 5th District are at play here?

Bilal Sekou: The district in the state is drawn up in a way to be the most competitive district. If you look at the 1st District, Congressman John Larson is pretty safe. This 5th District is the place to play with if you want to try to flip a seat here in Connecticut.

John Henry Smith: What do you think that means for turnout?

Bilal Sekou: I expect Connecticut to probably have a turnout rate that will be higher than usual. And certainly when we look nationally, we see from the early voting that's going on around the country that a lot of Americans are interested in this election. Control of the House and the Senate is in play. I think the interest has really increased among Americans, and we're likely to see a real jump in turnout this year.

John Henry Smith is Connecticut Public’s host of All Things Considered, its flagship afternoon news program. He's proud to be a part of the team that won a regional Emmy Award for The Vote: A Connecticut Conversation. In his 21st year as a professional broadcaster, he’s covered both news and sports.

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