HARTFORD - A onetime teen mother who became a celebrated teacher defeated a veteran politician Tuesday in the Democratic primary for a U.S. House seat currently held by Rep. Elizabeth Esty, who didn't seek re-election amid criticism of her mishandling of a sexual harassment case in her office.
Wolcott educator Jahana Hayes, who received a National Teacher of the Year award from President Barack Obama in 2016, will now face Republican Manny Santos, a former mayor of Meriden, in the November election. Despite being a political newcomer, Hayes is already on much better financial footing than Santos, who defeated two primary challengers to win the GOP nomination.
Hayes topped Simsbury First Selectman Mary Glassman, a two-time lieutenant governor candidate. If she wins the general election in November, Hayes, 45, will be the first black woman to win a Connecticut congressional seat.
"When we started this campaign a little more than 100 days ago, we had no organization and no network. People told us we had no chance and no business trying to upset the status quo," Hayes told her cheering supporters, who gathered at a Waterbury hotel. "And tonight, we proved them wrong."
A Democratic primary was unthinkable a year ago, when many observers believed Esty would likely win a fourth term. But the outspoken advocate of the #MeToo movement abruptly announced in April she wouldn't seek re-election after facing heavy criticism and calls for her resignation over how she handled the firing of a former chief of staff accused of harassment. Esty has said she regrets not moving along an internal investigation into the 2016 allegations, which ultimately revealed more widespread allegations of abuse.
Hayes, who grew up in public housing, has vowed to "fight for the soul of our nation" in Washington, D.C. During her acceptance speech, she called for Medicare for all, stronger gun laws, and an educational system that provides greater opportunities for all children.
In contrast, Santos has called Republican President Donald Trump's economic policies "dead on" and has vowed to fight tax increases and unnecessary spending.
"A win for Republicans in this state is also a win for the people of this state. It is also a win for the taxpayers," Santos said in a victory speech Tuesday night.
He comes into the general election at a significant financial disadvantage, with recent reports showing he has less than $500 in cash still on hand for the race after accounting for a campaign debt. In contrast, Hayes had about $360,000 as of July 25.
Santos urged his supporters to rally behind him this fall.
"It's going to take every one of you, just like we did for the primary, to come out and support and spend your time," he said. Former U.S. Rep. Nancy Johnson was the last Republican to hold the seat. She lost it in 2006 to Democrat Chris Murphy, who is now a U.S. senator and who encouraged Hayes to consider running for his old seat.
In April, Esty abruptly announced she wouldn't seek re-election. She made the announcement days after apologizing for not protecting her employees from the male ex-chief of staff.