Tonight, Democrat Jahana Hayes ends her historic congressional campaign with a victory: The 2016 national "Teacher Of The Year" announced her win over Republican Manny Santos in Connecticut's 5th Congressional District, according to the Associated Press. Hayes makes history as the first Black woman to represent the state in Congress. Santos has yet to concede.
At the beginning of this year, it was widely expected that Hayes' predecessor Democratic Rep. Elizabeth Esty would hang on to her seat. But in April of 2018, Rep. Etsy was forced to announce her retirement after a #MeToo scandal embroiled her office and called her judgment into question.
The news of Esty's retirement created an opening for both parties. In the August primary, Hayes, who at 45 is a political newcomer, achieved a surprise victory powered by grassroots organizing against Democrat Mary Glassman, who was favored to win.
Prior to running for Congress, Hayes worked for the Waterbury Public Schools for the past 13 years. She was raised in public housing and struggled with homelessness and her mother's addiction as a teenager. When she became pregnant at 17 — the same age as both her mother and grandmother — her education was derailed for a time before she made it to college. She went on to a successful career as a teacher in the same school district she learned in as a child. In 2016, she earned national recognition for her passion for her students' achievement when President Barack Obama named her "Teacher of The Year."
“I told my class that my mom was the National Teacher of the Year and that my family had met President Obama,” her eldest daughter, Asia Clermont, 28, told the Connecticut-based News Times in June. “And I thought that would be the highlight of her life and her career.”
After her primary victory, Hayes was expected to win tonight: Not only is Connecticut's 5th Congressional district an area that leans Democratic already, but Santos' campaign was also underfunded. Meanwhile, thanks to the historic nature of her candidacy, Hayes was able to attract donations from outside her district as well as national media attention.
Nonetheless, Hayes had to fight hard to get her name out there in a district where she was relatively unknown to voters beforehand. She ran on a message of hope and inclusion, regularly pitching herself as someone who understands her constituents lives and the issues that affect them. "Going from public housing to being homeless, to a homeowner, to a single mom, and to a two-parent professional household," Hayes told the New York Times, "I have some insight to the challenges many of our families are facing — not because I’ve reached out, but because I’ve lived it."