Low turnout, clockwork campaign drove Finch victory

Published on October 3, 2011 by

The 2011 Bridgeport Democratic mayoral primary is now history and for all the excitement generated during her campaign, challenger Mary-Jane Foster was unable to translate that seeming momentum into votes. Instead, incumbent Mayor Bill Finch was able to waltz to victory, garnering 5,398 votes to Foster’s 3,795.

In percentage points, the mayor picked up 59 percent of the ballots cast while his challenger only tallied 41 percent. The 18 percent margin of victory for Finch can be called nothing else but a landslide.

Those totals defied most of the political analysis that took place prior to the Sept. 27th vote, including the analysis by this reporter. Most political pundits believed that the race would be close, probably within five percentage points. They also generally felt that Finch would win, but that an upset by Foster was certainly in the realm of possibility. Democratic Town Committee Chairman Mario Testa predicted a 2-to-1 margin of victory for Finch. He wasn’t right, but he wasn’t far off either.

A key development that helped create the landslide for Finch was the paltry 21 percent turnout, a figure city Democrats should be embarrassed about.

Foster’s main hope in unseating the incumbent was in empowering voters who saw themselves as disenfranchised from the town committee and the Bridgeport political process, and in attracting new blood to her cause. Her means of accomplishing this coal including registering a host of students at the University of Bridgeport, where she serves as a vice president, and encouraging a good deal of Republicans to switch their affiliation to Democrat in order to vote in the primary. Foster also held numerous rallies and hammered Finch at every turn.

Since there were going to be very few party regulars who would vote for her, Foster had to attract new voters and attract them in large numbers. Come Election Day, she was unable to do that and the result was her 18 percentage point defeat.

Conversely, the DTC is exceptional at turning out its supporters, and without question they delivered for the mayor in this primary. In other words, the party could count on a substantial number of votes and they also needed Foster’s populist approach to fizzle at the ballot box, and that’s exactly what happened.

There were other factors besides the low turnout that worked in favor of the incumbent. Finch’s organization was first rate and Foster’s had not been battle tested for the most part. The challenger did have some veteran politicians on her team, most notably campaign manager Jason Bartlett and former state Senator Ernie Newton. In the end, however, the mayor’s well-oiled machine carried the day.

Another reason Finch was able to cruise to victory was that voters may have well been turned off by Foster’s negative campaigning. Finch also engaged in his fair share of negativity, but Foster carried the day in this category. At first, her hammering at the mayor got her noticed and eventually put Finch on the defensive. The Foster campaign’s strategy was working.

The challenger probably peaked when a court ruled that her name had to be placed on the ballot. In the same stroke, the primary was also moved back two weeks from Sept. 13th to Sept. 27th. However, those extra 14 days did not prove to be a boon for Foster and the voting public was subjected to additional negativity.

Most importantly, the final piece of the puzzle for the mayor was his ability to run on his record. Finch repeatedly pointed to his administration’s accomplishments with pride and enthusiasm. That message clearly resonated with Bridgeport Democrats.

Now Finch will face Republican Rick Torres and Independent Jeff Kohut in the general election on Nov. 8th. Expect those two challengers to run spirited campaigns but they will also face the same problem Foster did; At the end of the day, Bridgeport voters believe that Finch is doing a pretty good job.