By Paul Schott

pschott@bcnnew.com

In a rematch of their contest two years ago, incumbent state Sen. Toni Boucher again defeated her Democratic opponent John Hartwell in Tuesday's balloting for the 26th District seat.

In addition to winning district-wide, Boucher also beat Westport resident Hartwell by almost 300 votes in his hometown, taking 51 percent of all ballots cast there. In 2008, by contrast, Hartwell comfortably won Westport with 57 percent of the vote. The multi-town legislative district encompasses Westport, Wilton, Ridgefield, and parts of Weston, Redding, Bethel and New Canaan

"Residents have responded to the fact that I've spent a lot of time in Westport," Boucher, a Wilton resident, told the Westport News. "I have been dealing with a lot of issues and problems that residents have brought to me, and we have responded."

After election results were announced, Hartwell was quick to acknowledge Boucher's re-election.

"Toni worked incredibly hard, and she obviously won a convincing victory," Hartwell told the Westport News.

Compared to his campaign two years ago, Hartwell said several factors hampered his efforts this time. He cited, in particular, a later start to his campaign than in 2008 and Boucher's incumbency as key factors that swayed the outcome.

"The power of incumbency is great, and incumbents usually win," he added.

Westport Democratic Town Committee Chairman Jim Ezzes agreed that Boucher's incumbency had strengthened her campaign.

"Toni Boucher is a well-known legislator," he said. "John Hartwell needs to become better known."

After two unsuccessful bids for state Senate, Hartwell said he would not rule out running again for public office, but that he would be focusing his efforts in the near-term on projects in the private sector.

Boucher's victory was one of the few auspicious outcomes in an otherwise disappointing night for Republicans in Westport.

Nitzy Cohen, the party's nominee for state representative in the 136th District, was defeated, and the GOP candidates for the U.S. Senate, House of Representatives and governor all were out-polled by their Democratic rivals in Westport.

Like Ezzes, Westport Republican Town Committee Chairman Bob Zappi attributed Boucher's victory, in part, to her legislative experience.

"She is an experienced campaigner," he said. "She knew the concerns of the people she met with, and she knew how to engage them."

Boucher said her victory in Westport -- a town that generally leans Democratic in voter registration -- also signified that she could draw support across party lines.

"I'm probably most proud of that result in Westport," she said. "We really had to change a lot of people's minds to gain credibility and trust."