With her primary win in Connecticut’s 5th Congressional District on Tuesday, Jahana Hayes now has the potential to make history in the state.
If Hayes goes on to victory in November, she will be Connecticut’s first black Democrat in Congress. Hayes, who grew up in housing projects in Waterbury, spoke to The New York Times about potentially being the state’s first nonwhite congressional Democrat.
“It absolutely plays into everything,” Hayes told the Times. “Because while I see myself as someone who can be a representative of all people, I’d be lying if I didn’t say that it would be important to so many people in my community.”
The former educator is running for the seat left open by Democrat Elizabeth Esty after allegations that the incumbent mishandled a sexual harassment claim against her former chief of staff. Hayes faces Republican Manny Santos, the former mayor of Meriden, Connecticut, in the November general election.
Hayes received the “Teacher of the Year” award in 2016 and led a strong grassroots campaign against local Democrat Mary Glassman. Glassman, who won a primary in 2006 for lieutenant governor, earned the unexpected support of the Republican-leaning U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
Hayes won the endorsement of a number of different groups, including the American Federation of Teachers and Women’s March Connecticut.
As a child, Hayes’ family relied on public assistance programs, and she was at one point homeless after her family lost their apartment. She became a mother as a teen but stuck with her education. Hayes attended a local community college before gaining a degree at a four-year university and pursuing post-graduate education.
Hayes told voters about how her upbringing has shaped her campaign.
“I know what it’s like to go to bed to gunshots outside, I know what it’s like to wake up in the morning to a dead body in the hallway,’’ Hayes said at a campaign event. “No job gives you that kind of experience. Life gives you that kind of experience.”
This story has been updated with Santos as the GOP nominee.