The candidates running for Connecticut’s most competitive Congressional seat have sharp differences over gun policy and immigration.

And it makes sense.

Manny Santos, a former mayor of Meriden, is running as a Trump Republican, and Jahana Hayes, the 2016 National Teacher of the Year, is running as a progressive Democrat.

With five weeks until the November 6 midterm election, voters in the 5th District are deciding which candidate to send to Washington, D.C., and those decisions could come down to a few hot-button issues.

“I am an individual of law and order,” said Santos, a former Marine during the Gulf War who immigrated with his parents from Portugal as a boy. “We have gotten ourselves into this problem because we have ignored our responsibilities to enforce our immigration laws.”

Hayes, who grew up without her mother and father in a Waterbury housing project and dropped out of high school at 17 when she became pregnant, said everyone deserves a voice in Washington, D.C.

“We are a country that has always welcomed immigrants,” said Hayes, who became the talent and professional development supervisor at Waterbury public schools after her national Teacher of the Year tour. “I don’t see how we secure our position in the world by turning our backs on everyone.”

Hayes’ and Santos’ differences on gun policy are similarly stark.

Santos, an expert rifleman and pistol sharp shooter in the Marines who has the endorsement of the 30,000-member Connecticut Citizen’s Defense League, opposes gun control legislation such as expanded background checks. He also believes school districts should be able to use federal grants to arm teachers.

Hayes, whose husband is a Waterbury police detective, says the solution to school shootings is not to arm teachers but to expand background checks for gun purchases, and to ban so-called assault weapons, among other gun control measures.

Their political differences are part of a deeper contrast in campaign momentum that has observers predicting a Hayes win in November.

Hayes, who has a national profile as a rising star, raised more money than any candidate during the primary season, and has a commitment from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee to promote her as a top candidate to donors. Santos, who does not get the same national media attention, and who raised the least cash during the primary, does not have a commitment from the National Republican Congressional Committee, because he does not qualify as a competitive candidate.

And yet election observers and political insiders say Santos could close ground on Hayes if he does well in a series of three debates in October — the first of which is Thursday.

At stake is whether Republicans can break into Connecticut’s all-Democratic Congressional delegation, and send a message to Washington that support for President Donald Trump is strong in northwestern and central Connecticut, or whether Democrats can send a message to Washington with a Hayes win that progressives are the party’s future.

The November 6 winner will replace U.S. Rep. Elizabeth Esty, a three-term Democrat who dropped re-election plans after admitting she covered up an office abuse scandal involving her former chief of staff.


Santos, who supports Trump’s crackdown on illegal immigration, agrees with the president’s push to build a wall on the southern border, to separate children who arrive with adults that are stopped at the border, and to end a program known as DACA — created under former President Barack Obama’s executive order to protect 700,000 immigrants from deportation who came to the U.S. as youths.

“We have to end the DACA program that was started with an executive order because there was no legal mechanism for individuals entering the county illegally to remain here,” said Santos, adding he would support legislation to give immigrants under the DACA program a way to become legal residents, so long as the bill had provisions for “enhanced border patrol and security.”

On the controversial issue of separating children from adults at the border, Santos said the Trump administration was following a law that required children be kept away from parents being prosecuted.

“In some cases, it is very difficult for the U.S. to verify those are actually (the adults’) children,” said Santos, an engineer who works as a business capacity analyst. “We do have a significant problem with human trafficking, so (child detention) is necessary in order to vet these adults and do everything that needs to be done with the criminal process.”

Hayes, who opposes the Trump administration’s immigration crackdown and its plans to build a wall, says she understands voter frustration with immigrants living in America while not following the law.

“I think immigration is a challenge for this country, but we have been built on the backs of immigrants, and we need 21st century reforms to provide multiple pathways to citizenship for people who come as refugees and seek asylum,” said Hayes. “The way the system is built, it doesn’t allow us to do that.”

Hayes said immigration reform should include a path to citizenship for so-called Dreamers - the immigrants protected under the DACA program.

“It is not just unskilled labor when we talk about immigration — we have doctors and engineers and people who become the fiber of this nation,” Hayes said. “I am not afraid to make this a priority and commit myself to looking thoroughly at it.”

Gun policy

Santos said he understands voter concern about the brutality and the frequency of mass shootings, and the desire people have for Washington to do something about it. But he does not agree that the solution is making it harder to buy firearms.

“These crimes are being committed by individuals who have obtained guns illegally,” Santos said. “It’s happening because people cannot take personal responsibility and have lost touch with reality and are taking it all out on the easiest target.”

For that reason, he said, schools should have the option to use federal funds to arm teachers.

“School are a soft target,” he said. “Everyone knows they can’t defend themselves.”

Hayes disagrees.

“Teaching is a very difficult skill set, and I would not want the added responsibility of securing a firearm in a building of 1,300 kids, or telling a parent ‘I thought I left my desk locked,’” Hayes said. “I have visited schools across the country that are struggling to keep up with basic educational standards, and federal grant money should not be spent to arm teachers with guns.”

Hayes said most Americans, including gun owners, favor expanded background checks, and she would go to Washington with that as a priority.

“I am less concerned with the next election and more concerned with the will of the people,” she said. “If the majority of people want common sense gun reform, I have a hard time understanding why elected officials are not voting the will of the people.” 203-731-3342