How divided was my Valley

October 28, 2018

DERBY — With less than 10 days until the polls open, voters in the Lower Naugatuck Valley are still undecided about who they think should lead Connecticut for the next four years.

This is the region where the GOP nominee Bob Stefanowski should have home field advantage — Donald Trump won in all of the industrial, blue-collar towns along the Naugatuck river in 2016 — and if an unofficial count of lawn signs is any indication, Stefanowski will have no trouble drumming up support here on Election Day. Stefanowski signs outnumber Democrat Ned Lamont a dozen to one along the river, and he won all of these towns in the Republican primary.

Still, many voters aren’t sold on either candidate, according to a cross-section of voters interviewed at Bad Sons Brewing Company in Derby Sunday afternoon.

Patty Ryan, a registered Republican from Derby who sometimes votes the Democratic line, is undecided about who to vote for, but said she’s leaning toward Stefanowski.

“I thought he was a great person when I met him,” Ryan said, adding she believes he’ll be able to work with the legislature even if Democrats maintain control of both houses.

Ryan, sporting a Red Sox t-shirt the day her favorite team heads into Game 5 of the World Series, said she met Stefanowski when he stopped by a sales meeting at the real estate office where she works. She doesn’t believe his promise to not raise taxes — “I know no matter what candidate is in there, our taxes are going to go up. It’s impossible not to raise taxes,” — but she’s lived in Connecticut for decades and Lamont has never won her over. She likes Stefanowski.

Shannon Korponay, a registered Democrat from Seymour who was visiting Bad Sons with Ryan, said she definitely plans to vote Nov. 6, but won’t decide until then who to vote for.

“I am really concerned about tolls,” she said. “I travel a lot for work, and it’s already expensive.” Turning to Ryan, she added, “I know you don’t like Trump, but his tax plan, I got $90 a week back in my paycheck. As a single mom, that’s important to me.”

In addition to the economy and tolls — the most talked about issues this election — Korponay said she is also concerned about gun control. A day after a gunman in Pittsburgh killed 11 people at a Synagogue, she said more needs to be done to stop such incidents from occurring.

“Too many people are running around with guns that shouldn’t have them and we need to figure out what to do about that,” she said.

Ryan added, “I don’t think fixing the economy is going to solve all of our problems. The shooting yesterday, the economy isn’t going to solve that, so there are other things we need to worry about.”

Not all of those sipping suds and watching sports at Bad Sons were from the Valley proper. Jude Dichele, a registered Democrat, hails from nearby Orange. Like many others, he wasn’t yet firm on a candidate.

“I’m still undecided but I think, morally, Lamont has better morals,” said Dichele, who studied political science at Quinnipiac University and now owns an auction company. He said he reads multiple newspapers every day and is closely following the midterm elections.

“But I don’t think (Lamont) is the better candidate,” Dichele added. “I think just like in 2016, it’s going to be the lesser of two evils for a lot of people ... you have two people running for governor that are inexperienced.”

Like many voters, Dichele said he is concerned about taxes and the Connecticut economy.

“Connecticut has a long history of taxes, and until you fix that we will have a lot of problems,” he said. “We need to start looking at things from a middle class perspective. Things need to change.”

Some voters are simply burnt out on the divisive political discourse. A few of the brewery’s patrons declined to be interviewed about their stance, because they didn’t want to discuss politics on a Sunday.

Scott Speaker, a registered Democrat from Oxford, and his wife, Meg Speaker, a Republican, don’t talk about politics anymore. Speaker said he plans to devote the weekend prior to Nov. 6 researching the candidates for governor, and he does plan to vote.

“It’s so depressing to watch,” Scott Speaker said. “I always thought to be informed was the most important thing we could do, but it’s so painful. Families don’t talk about politics anymore because of the Trump administration. It’s just so contentious, it’s killing them.”

Ryan echoed Speaker. Apathy is in the air.

“I don’t think anybody is too excited about this election,” she said.

kkrasselt@hearstmediact.com; 203-842-2563; @kaitlynkrasselt