WASHINGTON -- Working Families Party candidate Ed Gomes won a Connecticut state Senate special election Tuesday night, making him the first state legislative candidate to win solely on the party's line.
Gomes' victory represents a vindication of strategy for the progressive party, which typically cross-endorses Democrats.
As a former Democratic state senator, Gomes was known in his Bridgeport-based district as an advocate for a higher minimum wage, guaranteed paid sick days and funding for public education.
"I've supported WFP since the beginning because they always are willing to take a risk in support of a candidate who fights for our progressive vision," Gomes said in a statement. "I'm extremely proud to return to Hartford as the first-ever WFP legislator."
The race drummed up some inter-party conflict. Gomes was up against Democratic City Councilor Richard DeJesus for the local Democratic committee nomination. The committee vote resulted in a tie, which was broken by an attorney who had done legal work for DeJesus.
After revelations emerged that DeJesus owed more than $150,000 in back taxes and more than $30,000 in unpaid child support, Democratic leaders, including Bridgeport Mayor Bill Finch, shifted their support to another Democratic candidate, Ken Moales Jr. Moales sits on the city's education board, which the WFP has criticized for its reform agenda.
The WFP has seen some issue advocacy success. A fight over the school board energized Bridgeport activists, who were upset by the board's drive to hire outside consultants and increase standardized testing and teacher evaluations. In September, WFP-backed candidates defeated three members of the board in the city's Democratic primaries. Connecticut's WFP chapter also helped advocate for the state to pass the nation's first law requiring some companies to provide paid sick leave days.
Since the party had previously run state legislative candidates on its line and failed, it was hesitant to set its expectations too high before the returns came in.
"[Gomes is] definitely the underdog because it's a heavily, heavily Democratic district," Joe Dinkin, the party's national communications director, told The Huffington Post Tuesday. "Voters are habituated to voting on the Democratic line in cities like Bridgeport, as a matter of habit. It's ingrained and it's difficult to overcome. And yet the city has history of electing WFP candidates against the machine, and the public financing system levels the playing field, so we actually had the resources to compete."
This article has been updated to include more information about the Working Families Party's relationship with the school board in Bridgeport.