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Republican Manny Santos, Trailing In Money And Popularity, Goes Grassroots In 5th District

Republican Manny Santos is vying for the 5th Congressional District seat that’s about to be vacated by Democrat Elizabeth Esty.

Connecticut will elect a new United States representative from that district this November. That’s because Esty decided not to run again after a sexual assault scandal gripped her office earlier this year.

Santos is up against a better-funded Democratic opponent, so he’s taking a grassroots approach to try to beat Jahana Hayes.

He was at the Cheshire Fall Festival back in September, talking to anyone who would listen and doing it without knowing where they stand on key issues, or even what party they belong to.

One man asked Santos if he was a Republican or Democrat, after Santos approached him. The man’s wife said “that’s a good thing” when Santos said he was a Republican.

She’s Judy Iannone -- a retired accountant. Her ideal candidate is a Republican that supports the president and his policies.

“The ideals that we don’t need more government, we need less government, we need less regulation so that business can thrive, less taxes so that businesses have more money to invest in both their labor force and their assets,” Iannone said.

Credit Frankie Graziano / Connecticut Public Radio
Connecticut Public Radio
Judy Iannone of Cheshire met Santos for the first time at the Cheshire Fall Festival. She said an ideal candidate to her is one that supports President Donald Trump and his policies.

Santos emigrated from Portugal in 1974. Santos later was in active duty for four years as a U.S. Marine. During Desert Storm, he served in the Persian Gulf as a fighter jet mechanic.

He was elected mayor in Meriden back in 2013 where he served one term. Now, the father of two works as a business analyst at the UnitedHealth Group in Rocky Hill.

He’s running against a popular, well-funded Democrat in Jahana Hayes. She met Barack Obama two years ago when she was named the national teacher of the year and she’s since received the former president’s endorsement.

All of which means Santos is trailing in star power. He’s also behind big time in money. So he’s going grassroots.

But, at the Cheshire festival, he found that the approach doesn’t always win voters over, especially with people like Democrat Karen Schnitzer. She indicated that she wasn’t happy with President Donald Trump’s record on the environment and wanted to know if Santos would stand up to the president.

Santos replied by saying that “a lot of what of he’s doing is good for America”

“And a lot is bad, but thank you,” Schnitzer said.

When it comes to Trump, Santos said he may not support everything about the man, but he supports a lot of his policies.

“I’m going to defend his policies that are good for America -- his policies of economic freedom, his policies of lower tax, lower regulation -- in order to increase the benefits of businesses,” Santos said.

As the campaign has evolved, Santos has also weighed in on some contentious political issues.  He supported the nomination of now Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh. On Twitter, he called out the members of the state’s Democratic congressional delegation and said they were opposed to Kavanaugh from the start.

Also, during a recent debate with his opponent, Santos was asked if he supported gay marriage. The video was posted on Facebook.

“I, personally, am not in favor of gay marriage,” Santos said. “I think marriage is a union – more of a belief that it’s between a man and a woman. That’s what I believe a marriage should be.”

Back at the fair, he also said veterans’ issues were important to him.

“We’ve neglected veterans for far too long in favor of funding one failed social program after another,” Santos said.

Still, the numbers aren’t in his favor.

There are 2,128,255 registered voters in the state, but Democrats outnumber Republicans by 321,390. Since the 2016 election, Democrats have been registering in greater numbers.

“Republicans haven’t elected anyone to Congress from Connecticut since 2006,” said Kevin Rennie, a former Republican state lawmaker and a columnist for The Hartford Courant. “Their donor base is shriveling and it’s very hard for them to compete.”

To have any kind of shot at this thing, Rennie said Santos has to revive that base.

But when it comes to fundraising, Hayes is destroying Santos, which is something Santos knows.

“That’s where the money is — it’s on the Democrat’s side,” Santos said. “It’s certainly not on my side. We are running truly a grassroots effort. She’s not running a grassroots effort. She’s getting financial support from all sorts of PACs and special interests from across the country.”

Based on campaign filings up to September 30, Hayes received about 24 times the amount of contributions that Santos did.

But one of the biggest factors in Connecticut may be a person who doesn’t even vote here: President Donald Trump. Rennie said Santos can’t win in Connecticut if he keeps up the Trump talk.

“If you’re running for Congress as a disciple of Donald Trump, you’re going to lose and you should lose,” Rennie said.

To make his point, Rennie pointed to a Quinnipiac University poll from August. Trump’s approval rating in Connecticut was 30 percent.  

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