TRUMBULL — A hard-fought race for the 123rd District was decided by less than 3 percentage points Tuesday night.

Four-term incumbent David Rutigliano decisively led Democratic challenger Sujata Gadkar-Wilcox in Election Day balloting, but absentee ballots were dis-proportionally returned by Democrats and brought the final tally to within 258 votes, according to campaign results reported by poll-watchers with both campaigns.

Rutigliano won big among in-person voters, 5,139 to 3,482. But the 5,104 absentee ballots brought the Democrat roaring back. The comeback though, fell just short. Gadkar-Wilcox won among absentee balloters 3,293 to 1,894, for a final margin of 7,033 to 6,775, a difference of about 1.8 percentage points.

Rutigliano started his day at the polls at 6 a.m., and was still there at 8 p.m. when polls closed.

“I think the temperature dropped about 15 degrees in the past few minutes,” Rutigliano said just before 5 p.m. as the sun set and the mercury dropped into the low 40s. “This morning was cold too, but at least the coffee was still hot.”

Quinnipiac professor Gadkar-Wilcox said it was the positive feedback from her first run against Rutigliano in 2018, an 8-point loss although unusually close for the traditionally GOP-friendly district, that led her to seek a rematch.

“Getting out and meeting voters, and talking to them about their concerns, I love it,” she said.

Both candidates remarked on the turnout at the polls. With a contentious presidential election, competitive General Assembly races and a series of charter revision questions on the ballot, turnout was expected to top 80 percent, far higher than 2018.

Gadkar-Wilcox said she hoped the conventional wisdom, that higher turnout favors Democratic candidates, held true.

“This is amazing,” she said as the line of voters streamed into Hillcrest Middle School. “This is democracy.”

Rutigliano also hoped strong turnout would lift him to a fourth term.

“Talking to people, all the feedback I’ve gotten was positive,” he said. “I think I’m pretty well liked around town, and I don’t think I did anything that would merit getting thrown out.”

Since winning the seat in 2012, Rutigliano had rolled over Douglas Sutherland and Lino Costantini by 20-point margins before the 8-point win in 2018 by about 900 votes. A Democrat has not won the seat since 1974.