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Will RNC reopen Black, Latino community center in CT? It’s unclear

Republican George Logan, who is running again for the 5th District, at an event during the 2022 election cycle at the RNC community center in New Britain.
Mark Pazniokas
CT Mirror
Republican George Logan, who is running again for the 5th District, at an event during the 2022 election cycle at the RNC community center in New Britain.

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In 2022, the Republican National Committee worked to get more engaged with voters of color in communities where the GOP has historically underperformed. A key part of that effort was investments in community centers across the nation.

But shortly after the end of the midterm elections season, the RNC wound down many of the centers, with only a handful remaining open. The RNC’s Black & Hispanic Community Center in New Britain shut down at the end of 2022, apparently one of the casualties.

Located in the state’s most competitive congressional district, the center served as both a political office and community event space. GOP campaigns used it for canvassing and phone banking as well as for non-political events that catered to families and children.

Now, though, state GOP officials would like to see a new one — this time in a different part of Connecticut’s 5th District.

With the 2024 elections kicking into high gear, the fate of these community centers is uncertain amid the RNC’s recent staff shakeup, with more allies of former President Donald Trump in leadership, and mixed messaging on bringing them back, as well as the party’s early-voting program.

After initial reporting last week that the committee would scrap both initiatives, new RNC Chairman Michael Whatley reversed course, writing in a memo that the party would keep the local offices and Bank Your Vote program, according to The Washington Post.

But it is unclear how that plan will be executed ahead of November and how much outreach to voters of color remains a priority heading into the elections. The RNC did not respond to a request for comment about whether it will revive the Connecticut office.

Ben Proto, chairman of the Connecticut Republican Party, said the New Britain office closed in December 2022 when the lease ran out. Filings with the Federal Election Commission show that the RNC started making monthly rent payments in January of that year and made the final one in November ahead of its closure.

Proto has been making an appeal to the RNC to reopen the center. He sees it as a vital part of boosting campaigns, especially former state Sen. George Logan, who is running again after narrowly losing to U.S. Rep. Jahana Hayes, D-5th District, in 2022.

Proto said he spoke with the RNC chairman at the spring meeting in Houston earlier this month about opening an office in Waterbury. Proto said he sent a follow-up email to Whatley this week, but the Connecticut Republican is not sure where things currently stand.

“I suggested to them they should do that. … I would like to see it in Waterbury this time,” Proto said in an interview. “I think it would provide substantial support for George [Logan] and other candidates. I’m waiting to hear what they want to do.”

“It opened up the Republican Party to people who might never thought about the party or never had a favorable impression,” he continued.

Will the RNC open a new office in CT?

The RNC Black & Hispanic Community Center opened its doors in March 2022. These centers were all located in states that had competitive federal and statewide races, and were considered at the time to play a role in determining control of Congress that year.

The hub was located in a small strip mall on West Main Street in New Britain and hosted some high-profile campaign events. Then-RNC chairwoman Ronna McDaniel visited ahead of the 2022 election to campaign with Logan and Senate candidate Leora Levy, who lost to U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn. Logan conceded the race to Hayes from outside the RNC center on Nov. 10, 2022.

Proto said the center also hosted family movie nights, game nights and baby drives, where people could get diapers and formula.

In May 2023, months after the center’s closure, the American Automobile Association took over the space.

Connecticut’s 5th District has recaptured both local and national attention with the likelihood of another Hayes-Logan rematch. While it is the most competitive seat in the state and recently came close to flipping, it has been a Democratic stronghold since the party flipped the seat back in 2006. A Republican from Connecticut has not served in the U.S. House since 2009.

Logan announced his campaign in October for the GOP nomination. Logan, who is the son of Guatemalan immigrants who had roots in Jamaica, is a former state senator who works for Aquarion, a water company owned by Eversource.

Hayes, who became the first Black woman to represent Connecticut in Congress, is seeking a fourth term. Prior to her time in Congress, she was a teacher in Waterbury and was named the 2016 National Teacher of the Year.

While Hayes won her two previous elections by big margins in 2018 and 2020, her most recent race against Logan was one of the most competitive and expensive in years. The 2022 race saw upwards of $12 million in spending between both parties and outside groups. Hayes defeated Logan by a little over 2,000 votes in 2022.

According to a 2022 U.S. Census survey, 64% of the population in the 5th District is white, while 8% is Black and 23% is Latino. The congressional district spans from the northwest corner of the state, down toward Danbury and over toward suburbs west of Hartford.

Hayes easily won New Britain and Waterbury in the 2022 election by double-digit margins. Despite Democrats’ major advantage in New Britain, Republican Mayor Erin Stewart has served since 2013 and has won several times during off-year elections.

Logan came close to a win during a midterm year but is now running during a presidential election year. Democratic presidential candidates have won Connecticut since 1992. And President Joe Biden easily won the state and the 5th District in 2020.

Democrats expect that built-in advantage for Hayes with Biden on the ballot again as well as U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., running for reelection. Murphy represented the 5th District in Congress until he ran for the Senate in 2012.

With ultra-competitive races looming like in Connecticut, Republicans are hoping for more national resources funneling into their states. But the progress and timing of that are unclear.

“Despite what you may have heard, we are not closing community centers,” Whatley said in his memo, according to The Washington Post. “We are aggressively pursuing programs to grow our base and maximize opportunities to engage with Americans, utilizing all existing tools for our voters to cast ballots.”

During a Fox News interview last week, Lara Trump, who is the new co-chair of the RNC and the former president’s daughter-in-law, also disputed reports that the centers are closing. But the New Britain one as well as others, as in Wisconsin, have been closed for years, while five reportedly stayed open.

Proto said the RNC’s lease was intended to run out by the end of 2022. When asked about the national party waffling on whether to keep these community centers and the gaps that could now result in outreach to voters of color, Proto said he would like to see longer-term investments but noted the expenses of running such offices. The RNC has also dealt with fundraising struggles.

He believes Waterbury should be the new location because of its easy access to main highways and other cities and towns in the 5th District. Hayes grew up in Waterbury and worked as a teacher at the high school there. According to 2022 estimates, more than a third of Waterbury’s population was Latino, while over a quarter was Black.

“They’re not inexpensive to operate. If we’re fortunate enough to win that seat … it becomes a more likely probability there will be a permanent community center,” Proto said. “It was nice to have the RNC involved in it. Regardless … we’re going to continue to do our outreach.”

For its part, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which is tasked with trying to take back the House majority, is spending $35 million on an initiative to engage with voters of color through advertising, research, polling, organizing and voter education across competitive House districts.

This comes as recent polling shows Democrats losing support among Black and Latino groups and holding smaller leads over Republicans.

Other investments in CT’s 5th District

While the status of a new RNC center is up in the air, national Republicans are investing in the district in other ways.

The National Republican Congressional Committee opened a field office in Farmington over the weekend, which is the first NRCC “Battle Station” to open in a Democratic-held district. Its debut was marked by a visit from House Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., alongside Logan.

NRCC spokeswoman Savannah Viar said the committee chose Farmington because of its proximity to other major towns and cities in the district as well as access to highways. She said it plans to remain open through the 2024 cycle and operate as a broader field office.

Johnson, who became speaker after a small group of Republicans led the ouster of Kevin McCarthy, also held a fundraiser in Hartford over the weekend. That is likely to give Logan a big financial boost. He outraised Hayes in the final three months of 2023, but the congresswoman still has a larger cash advantage after raising money all of last year, with $1 million in the bank.

National Republicans have quickly rallied around Logan months ahead of the August primary, signaling their commitment to the race. Republican Michelle Botelho is also running for the seat. In an interview with WTNH after the rally, Johnson praised Logan as “exactly the right kind of person” to run for Congress. Logan said “affordability’s the biggest issue I hear” in the 5th District as people struggle to afford food, rent and gas.

Democrats are also prioritizing the 5th District race. Hayes drew big-name politicians in 2022, as when Vice President Kamala Harris visited New Britain to talk about abortion access. And House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., visited a church in Waterbury along with Hayes in September.

Both parties are trying to cast one another as extremists and drawing early contrasts.

Democrats have raised concerns about Johnson’s voting record being too extreme for a blue state like Connecticut and moderate Republicans, noting his opposition to same-sex marriage being codified into federal law, support for a national ban on abortion after 15 weeks and efforts to overturn the 2020 presidential election results.

Hayes has made fundraising appeals since Johnson’s visit, tweeting that his stance on some issues “further solidifies my opponent’s embrace of the most extreme MAGA policies,” referring to Trump’s slogan “Make America Great Again.”

“George Logan is no moderate. He has danced around questions about his stance on important issues like abortion,” Connecticut Democratic Party chairwoman Nancy DiNardo said in response to Johnson’s visit, adding that Logan “will show the voters of Connecticut just how far he is willing to move to the right to get elected.”

When asked if Johnson’s record and support for Trump hurts Logan and other GOP candidates in the state, Republicans have pushed back, seeking to link Hayes’ voting record to progressive members of Congress known as “The Squad.”

Yet, Proto went on to say that because someone more conservative or more liberal comes to campaign with or supports a candidate “doesn’t necessarily mean that … they agree with everything they do.”

The Connecticut Mirror/Connecticut Public Radio federal policy reporter position is made possible, in part, by funding from the Robert and Margaret Patricelli Family Foundation.

This story was originally published by the Connecticut Mirror.

Lisa Hagen is CT Public and CT Mirror’s shared Federal Policy Reporter. Based in Washington, D.C., she focuses on the impact of federal policy in Connecticut and covers the state’s congressional delegation. Lisa previously covered national politics and campaigns for U.S. News & World Report, The Hill and National Journal’s Hotline.

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