Jahana Hayes, the first Black woman elected to Congress from Connecticut, won a second term on Wednesday, overcoming a heated campaign that included a virtual town hall that was marred by racial slurs.
Ms. Hayes has gained national attention as part of a wave of new Democrats in Washington and appeared on the cover of Rolling Stone magazine last year under the headline “Women Shaping the Future” with Representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Ilhan Omar of Minnesota and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
Her Republican opponent, David X. Sullivan, a former federal prosecutor, sought to use Ms. Hayes’s progressive ties to argue that she was too far to the left for the Fifth Congressional District in the northern and western parts of the state, including Waterbury, where a quarter of residents live below the poverty line.
“Hayes hangs out with the squad — they’re too radical,” one of Mr. Sullivan’s campaign ads said, in reference to a group of female leaders in Congress that includes Ms. Ocasio-Cortez, Ms. Omar, Representative Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts and Representative Rashida Tlaib of Michigan.
Ms. Hayes led Mr. Sullivan by roughly 11 percentage points, and The Associated Press declared her the winner on Wednesday afternoon.
In October, Ms. Hayes was the victim of a so-called Zoom-bombing, when she was repeatedly called racial slurs and interrupted during an online event held by her campaign. She was called the N-word and told to “GO PICK YOUR COTTON” in the Zoom chat.
Ms. Hayes wrote about her experience in an essay on the website Medium, “I am Not OK.” While her staff removed participants who were being abusive, more kept commenting.
“The most painful part of it all is that no matter what you achieve in life, no matter how many degrees you earn or how good of a person you try to be — all some people will ever allow themselves to see is a N-word,” she wrote.
“It was such a disgusting incident to interfere and disrupt a legitimate campaign activity with such hateful language that can’t be tolerated in politics or any other segment of our society,” said Mr. Sullivan, who is white.
Ms. Hayes, a former history teacher in Waterbury, was chosen as the National Teacher of the Year in 2016. Two years later, she ran for Congress, and a campaign video showing her enthusiastically accepting the teaching award from President Barack Obama went viral.
She remained something of a long shot against Mary Glassman, a longtime Democratic politician. But Ms. Hayes embraced her status as an underdog, highlighting her life story — she went through homelessness, a teen pregnancy and economic hardship — as part of her successful campaign.
While Ms. Hayes is the first Black Democrat from the state in Congress, another Waterbury native, Gary Franks, a Black Republican, represented the area for three terms in the 1990s.
In September, Ms. Hayes shared that she tested positive for the coronavirus — one of more than a dozen lawmakers in the House to get the virus — and was having trouble breathing. Her experience trying to get tested showed the need for a national testing strategy that could deliver fast results, she said. In a recent television interview, Ms. Hayes was still coughing.
“That was scary, really scary,” she said of her experience with the virus.