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For Minority Voters, Will 'Status Quo' Candidates Be Enough On Election Day?

Frankie Graziano
Connecticut Public Radio
Ned Lamont, Democratic candidate for governor, is hoping for a big turnout in the cities on Election Day.

The nerves are kicking in, said Constanza Segovia, talking politics outside her house in Hartford before Election Day. The stakes are high -- nationally and in the Connecticut gubernatorial race.

“Everything’s kind of on the line,” said Segovia, 36, a graphic designer, artist and registered Democrat. And to be “completely honest and straightforward,” she said, she is bored with her options.

Segovia put it this way: “I would like candidates that are not just white rich people.”

On Tuesday, Democrat Ned Lamont will need a big turnout from Connecticut cities like Hartford to overcome a surge from Republican Bob Stefanowski in the race for governor. The last Quinnipiac poll of likely voters showed the millionaire candidates in a statistical tie, with independent Oz Griebel at a distant third.

Lamont was recently asked about claims that his campaign hasn’t done enough to appeal to Latino and black voters. The running mate he chose is former Connecticut Secretary of the State Susan Bysiewicz, who defeated Eva Bermudez Zimmerman -- a union organizer of Puerto Rican heritage -- in the Democratic primary for lieutenant governor.

Lamont pushed back on the question, saying, “I think people get engaged late.” He added, “And you’re right, probably a couple of months ago we could’ve used a little more energy.”

Credit David DesRoches / Connecticut Public Radio
Connecticut Public Radio
Democratic candidate for governor Ned Lamont and running mate Susan Bysiewicz.

‘Who Am I Voting For?’

Typically, voters want candidates who understand their life experiences, Khalilah Brown-Dean said.

“It’s not just that people say, ‘These two candidates at the top of the ticket ... don’t look like me,’” said Brown-Dean, a political science professor at Quinnipiac University who has studied minority voter turnout. “The question is really, ‘Do they care about the things I care about?’ ”

The gubernatorial candidates have focused on the economy and jobs, which are important, Brown-Dean said. But for minority voters in Connecticut, having a job doesn’t guarantee access to a quality public school for their children, or that they won’t get racially profiled in their neighborhood, she said.

“So if you can’t talk about those issues ... that depresses turnout,” Brown-Dean continued. “It discourages people because they say, ‘Yet again, this is the status quo that does not see me, or does not include me.’ ”

Chiedza Rodriguez, a member of a Connecticut group called Latinas in the Resistance, was at a public forum in Hartford a few months ago on the impact of Hurricane Maria. Some of the panelists were talking about the importance of voting to make their voices heard, but Rodriguez saw it differently. She said it bothered her that extra pressure was being put on underserved communities to get to the polls -- and cast ballots for politicians who have disappointed them.

“They don’t believe in our elected officials,” Rodriguez said. “They’re like, then why am I going to vote for you? ... But you’re going to come at me that I need to vote, and I’m like, who am I voting for?”

The response from one of the panelists was essentially: You can’t win the game if you don’t play. And that means registering to vote.

“I’m not here to judge,” said Ingrid Alvarez-DiMarzo, Connecticut state director for the Hispanic Federation. “I’m not here to tell anybody what to do. But that’s the way that our democracy works.”

Credit Vanessa de la Torre / Connecticut Public Radio
Connecticut Public Radio
At right, Ingrid Alvarez-DiMarzo, Connecticut state director for the Hispanic Federation, talks about the importance of voting at a public forum in Hartford.

‘Common Denominator’

In Hartford, Fernando Betancourt is executive director of the San Juan Center, a social services organization that’s been part of a nonpartisan Get Out The Vote effort. The center has been focused on Latino voters this year, and Betancourt said the hundreds of people he’s talked to are motivated to vote.

But not because they support or know much about the local candidates. It’s the Trump factor.

Credit Vanessa de la Torre / Connecticut Public Radio
Connecticut Public Radio
Fernando Betancourt of the San Juan Center in Hartford shows a sample voter pledge.

“The common denominator for enthusiasm is actually the controversial figure of the president of the United States,” Betancourt said.

Since the 2016 presidential election, the Secretary of the State’s office has tallied at least 300,000 new voter registrations in Connecticut: Nearly half belong to unaffiliated voters, a third are Democrats, and 16 percent are Republicans.

Heading into Election Day, the state has a total of 2.16 million active voters, according to a recent count. Secretary of the State Denise Merrill said a typical turnout in a midterm election is between 55 and 65 percent.

Segovia, the graphic designer in Hartford, said she will be one of those voters. The progressive Latina said she wished Democrats would nominate more candidates of color at the top of the ticket.

“Democrats tend to play it so safe, and I don’t want to vote for someone who’s playing it safe,” Segovia said. But for this election, the party can still count on her vote.

“I really want them to win,” Segovia said. “It’s more because I don’t want the alternative, than me being inspired.”

Credit Vanessa de la Torre / Connecticut Public Radio
Connecticut Public Radio
Constanza Segovia, a registered Democrat in Hartford, said she is bored by the Democratic ticket in the gubernatorial race, but feels she has no other options.

This report is part of the public radio collaborative Sharing America, covering the intersection of race, identity and culture. The initiative is funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and includes reporters in Hartford, Conn., Kansas City and St. Louis, Mo., and Portland, Ore.

Vanessa de la Torre is executive editor of the New England News Collaborative, a regional hub of nine public media stations producing news and in-depth storytelling throughout New England. Previously, Vanessa was a reporter for Connecticut Public and the public radio collaborative Sharing America, covering issues of race, identity and culture. Before joining the public media world, Vanessa wrote for newspapers such as the Hartford Courant, where her investigative storytelling on Hartford education won regional and national awards. She also was part of the Courant team that was a finalist for the 2013 Pulitzer Prize for Breaking News Reporting. Vanessa grew up in El Centro, Calif., a desert town near the U.S.-Mexico border, and is a graduate of Princeton University. She received her master's degree from Stanford University’s Graduate Program in Journalism.

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