ESSEX, Conn. (WTNH) — Democratic incumbent State Senator Norm Needleman is being challenged by Republican Brendan Saunders.
Voters in the 33rd district, which covers a dozen towns in the Connecticut River Valley, recently received a political mail piece from the sitting State Senator attacking the religious beliefs of his challenger.
“It’s a personal attack that is very hurtful,” explained Brendan Saunders.
The Norm Needleman brochure claims Brendan Saunders is a “radical anti-gay activist” and that he opposes abortion in every circumstance citing a 15-year-old Southern Baptist Newsletter.
“The point of the mailer was not to criticize in a negative way, as it was to get both of us on the record for what we believe,” said Needleman.
A practicing Evangelical Christian, Saunders says the claims are not true.
On abortion, he is “pro-life” with a caveat. When he ministered to what he describes as “broken Black families,” he counseled the final decision between a doctor and patient.
“I wanted them to know that these are all the options that you have before you and I also wanted them to know whatever you choose you’re going to be loved.”
On gay rights, Saunders quotes the Bible saying homosexuality is a sin, but defends LGBTQ equality.
“Despite the fact that I personally believe that it’s a sin, it has never stopped me from treating people with equality and saying they deserve the same fairness and the same rights that I have.”
Needleman is Jewish and says he fears change in the Supreme Court could mean issues like abortion will be decided by state lawmakers. “It will fall to the states to protect the people living there.”
Needleman, a small business owner, admits he doesn’t love negative hit pieces and apologizes if he offended anyone. “I have a deep respect for people who have great faith. And I would never want to disrespect that in any way.”
In response, Saunders, a hotel sales executive, released a campaign video of former President Kennedy speaking about anti-catholic rhetoric from the 1960 campaign.
“It someday may be again a Jew, or a Quaker, or a Unitarian… or a Baptist.”
Then the candidates voice is heard, “I’m Brendan Saunders and I approve this message because i’m against religous discriminations.”
The last State Senate race in the 33rd district was decided by only 85 votes. With less than two weeks until the election, anything can happen.