Accusations of push polling, sign theft and parental support light up state senate race
WESTPORT — Accusations of foul play are flying from both sides in the race for the 26th Senate District pitting a 22-year-old Democrat versus a Republican 21-year veteran of Hartford politics.
“It seems to be one of the races where there’s an unusual amount of interest this year,” Gary Rose, a professor of government at Sacred Heart University, said of the race for the 26th District, which includes parts of Bethel, New Canaan, Redding, Ridgefield, Weston, Westport and Wilton.
Incumbent Sen. Toni Boucher has accused Haskell of being a privileged Westport kid and his supporters of taking down campaign signs and conducting push polls, which propose leading and often negative questions to discredit a candidate. Boucher’s challenger, Will Haskell, says Boucher is levying false claims about his family’s finances and personal life.
The testiness and antagonism now showing up in the race for the 26th could be filtering down from the state gubernatorial race, which has gotten heated with personal attacks, Rose said.
Democratic enthusiasm in the state, coupled with antipathy to President Donald Trump, could buoy Haskell’s chances of winning the race, but Boucher has won her last two elections with more than 60 percent of the vote in a district that has 30.8 percent registered Democrats and 30.4 percent registered Republicans.
“It would be an upset of major proportions,” Rose said of the possibility that Haskell defeats Boucher.
In a Sept. 19 Facebook post on her personal page, Boucher, who has represented the 26th Senate District since 2009 and previously represented the 143rd House District, which includes Wilton, her hometown, and Norwalk for the previous 12 years, said her opponent has engaged in unfair campaign practices.
“First pulling up signs and now push polls. So sad to start a new political journey by using the worst of campaign tactics. And, not a good way to establish a positive reputation when newly entering the political arena,” Boucher, 68, wrote, noting she heard about the alleged push polls from several of her supporters, including Weston resident Michele Tivey, who said she received a call that painted Sen. Boucher in a negative light and repeatedly lied about her record on education funding, tax reform and LGBTQ rights.
Tivey did not return a call seeking comment.
“All the other side is interested in doing is levying accusations that just aren’t true,” Haskell said, adding, “Push polls are not something my campaign could afford or something we’re interested in doing.”
A search of Haskell’s campaign on the State Elections Commission website does not show any expenditures for polling.
Boucher claimed, without evidence, that his campaign removed several Boucher lawn signs from private property in Weston in a Facebook post on Sept. 15 and a week prior told a group of Republicans at the opening of the Ridgefield Republican Town Committee that his parents are major donors to U.S. Rep. Jim Himes and Sen. Chris Murphy, (both D-Conn.), Haskell said. “I’m not aware of any political sign theft complaints that we’ve received,” Norwalk police Lt. Terry Blake said.
“It certainly has to be those that are advancing that campaign, otherwise I don’t know why they would spend the money and time to do it,” Boucher said of the woman that removed her sign. Haskell denies his campaign was responsible for the removal of Boucher’s signs in Norwalk.
In a recording obtained by the Westport News, Boucher levied several personal criticisms of Haskell in speaking to a group at the opening of the Ridgefield Republican Town Committee headquarters.
“He has nothing else to do. People get the sense that he is that really privileged, wealthy kid from a wealthy family in Westport and he can’t wait to get to law school,” Boucher is heard on the recording. “His parents gave so much money to the Democrats, he gets every opportunity to work for Himes, or Chris Murphy, or Blumenthal, and so on. So, trust me, he has his minions and he had them there tonight that are his college buddies that graduated, and of course apparently, his parents are paying for his lifestyle.”
Haskell, who graduated from Georgetown University in May and interned in the Washington offices of Himes and Murphy, said he is supporting himself with money he saved from working as a researcher and at a convenience store throughout college. His parents are not financially supporting him at this time, he said. Haskell, who grew up in Westport, lives in an apartment in New Canaan, he said. A search of Haskell’s parents on the Federal Election Commission database shows neither of Haskell’s parents has donated to the campaigns of Murphy or Himes.
“What we’ve seen repeatedly from the other side is an interest in talking about anything other than Sen. Boucher’s record and the issues. The distraction is so frustrating because when I go door-to-door, no voters want to talk about push polls or signs. They want to talk about the cost of prescription drugs and common-sense gun regulation,” Haskell said.
In response to why she made false claims about Haskell’s parents’ campaign donations, Boucher blamed the Haskell campaign for sending trackers to follow her. “There’s apparently some person tracking and running around trying to get ‘I gotcha’ kind of tapes,” Boucher said, adding, “This is all part of the devolution of the process. We do not send trackers or people to spy on the other person in their private gatherings.”
“Our campaign desperately needs all the help we can get and we simply don’t have an indefinite number of resources to send people to her events and it’s not something we’re going to do,” Haskell said, denying the use of trackers.
email@example.com; 203-842-2638; @SophieCVaughan1