Windham County Considered ‘Pivot County' After 2016 Election

Windham County went for President Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012. In 2016, voters pivoted and President Donald Trump won the county.

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Robert Vardaro, wearing a bright red "Keep America Great" sweatshirt, stopped at a store in Windham Monday afternoon to pick up yard signs showing support for President Donald Trump. A shift from where Vardaro was in 2008.

"I was actually a registered Democrat," said Vardaro.

Vardaro, a veteran living in Brooklyn, Connecticut, said he registered as a Democrat in 2007 and cast his first presidential ballot for President Barack Obama in 2008.

"I believed in the 'hope and change' thing that was said," said Vardaro.

Vardaro said that he did not vote in the 2012 election and voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016. He said he regretted his vote and became a Republican not long after the 2016 election, a decision fueled by his time in the military. Vardaro is planning on voting for Trump in the 2020 election.

"Because Trump has done a lot for the troops," said Vardaro.

Going from voting for President Barack Obama, a Democrat, in 2008 to supporting Trump, a Republican, is not uncommon in Windham county.

According to Ballotpedia, Windham county is one of 206 pivot counties across the country.

A pivot county is a county that went for Obama in 2008 and 2012 and Trump in 2016. Obama won Windham county in 2008 with a 14.67% margin of victory and a 13.28% margin of victory in 2012. In 2016, voters pivoted. Trump won Windham county in 2016 with a 7.78% margin of victory.

Ronald Schurin, an associate professor in the University of Connecticut's Department of Political Science, said that while Windham County has pivoted before, over time it has been reliably blue.

"When there was a Republican landslide it would go to the Republicans, but generally not otherwise," said Schurin.

Schurin said that multiple factors can account for the pivot. For example, he believes some of the same factors that caused states in the upper Midwest to go red could be behind the shift in the northeast corner of Connecticut.

"A general sense of decline and the concern about middle class, but blue collar jobs moving away that Trump tapped into," said Schurin.

Schurin also said that Mitt Romney, the Republican presidential candidate who ran against Obama in 2012, did not appeal to many voters in Windham county. Another thought, according to Schurin, is that voters pivoted to Trump in 2016 after not seeing much improvement in their lives after Obama's presidency.

"There was some disappointment. That could be part of it," said Schurin.

The Democratic town chair in the Town of Windham said that while the town stayed blue in 2016, she was not surprised that the county as a whole went red.

"There is a lot of economic insecurity with a lot of blue collar workers who have traditionally voted Democratic, but do swing in various elections," said Leslie O'Brien, Democratic town chair.

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However, O'Brien said that she is also not surprised to hear voters throughout the county tell her that they are pivoting back and are planning to vote for former Vice President Joe Biden this year.

"'This is a guy who understands what we are going through. He comes from the same kind of family. He understands the plight of people like me.' I hear that a lot from people," said O'Brien.

Meanwhile, the chair for the town's Republican committee said that he believes support for Trump in the county has grown since 2016.

"I am actually hearing people are going more towards Trump now," said Mike Desaulniers, Republican town chair. "There is actually a Trump rally today in Windham. Things you didn't see in 2016."

In terms of who will win the county in 2020, it is difficult to predict. According to Schurin, any victory for either presidential candidate in Windham county will be a narrow one.

He said factors such as population growth, demographic changes, business closures or openings, and the COVID-19 pandemic could all have an impact.

"It will be very interesting seeing what happens," said Schurin.

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