Republicans were declaring victory Friday night as East Granby finance board member Tami Zawistowski won a special election over Democrat Peter Hill in the 61st district in northern Connecticut.
The special election was held to fill the seat of former Democratic state Rep. Elaine O’Brien of Suffield, a two-term legislator who died in February at 58 of brain cancer.
Zawistowski, a pro-gun advocate and former president of the East Granby Chamber of Commerce, had lost when she ran for the seat against O’Brien in 2012. The district covers East Granby, Suffield, and parts of northern Windsor.
Zawistowski had received support on the blog of the pro-gun Connecticut Citizens Defense League.
Insiders said that the race was emblematic of a broader trend in politics beyond the boundaries of the district. Greenwich business executive Tom Foley, who leads among Republicans in the race for governor, campaigned along with Zawistowski, while U.S. Senator Chris Murphy went door to door with Hill.
The race marks the second time that Republicans have recently won a previously Democratic legislative seat in a special election. Republicans won a seat last year that had been held by Democrats for decades, including by Nancy Wyman of Tolland, who now serves as lieutenant governor.
Democrats now hold a majority of 96 to 54 in the state House of Representatives with one seat open in a Democratic district in New Haven.
“Tami’s landslide victory tonight is a true testament of the strength of her Republican message of restoring much-needed fiscal sanity to our state,” state GOP chairman Jerry Labriola, Jr. said Friday night.
“Tonight’s results are also a clear referendum on the failed economic policies of Dan Malloy, which have given us the worst economy in the nation, brutally high taxes, and an unemployment rate that continues to far exceed the national average.
House GOP leader Larry Cafero said, “This is a great grassroots effort in this district, and we’ve shown over time a propensity to win these targeted races when we get our message out and our people out. This is a wonderful harbinger for the coming election cycle.”
Malloy’s campaign spokesman, James Hallinan, referred questions to the state Democratic Party. Sandra A. Lyon, the chief of staff for the state Democrats, said she commended Hill “on a hard-fought race and congratulate Tami Zawistowski.”
“But please, someone give Jerry Labriola a reality check,” Lyon said, adding, “As much as Jerry needs good news, a special election for a state House race is not an indicator of anything for November.”
Democrats had held the seat for more than five years after Republican Ruth Farhbach of Windsor held the seat for more than 25 years.
Labriola said, “Voters aren’t happy with the direction Dan Malloy is taking our state, and they’re making that known by electing Republican leaders like Tami who will go to Hartford and fight for the commonsense reforms we need to get our state back on track.
“Despite deploying their top surrogates – including Senator Chris Murphy, Congressman Joe Courtney, and Speaker Brendan Sharkey – Democrats found themselves unable to overcome the reality that Connecticut voters are rejecting Dan Malloy’s failed policies in favor of commonsense Republican principles,” Labriola said.
Both Republicans and Democrats said it was highly unusual to have a special election on a Friday in early April.