Under the weight of a crushing 2010 defeat and in the aftermath of the recently announced decision of its chairman not to seek re-election, the Republican Party in Connecticut is at a crucial juncture. There’s no doubt about it: the next few years could make or break the minority party.
First of all, it should be duly noted that being a Republican in Connecticut is a little like being a Democrat in Mississippi — or maybe a Yankees fan at Fenway Park. Indeed, it seems like the only way to get elected as a GOPer statewide is to have a moderate voting record or simply pretend to be someone you’re not.
Yet despite being outnumbered by Democrats by a margin of almost 2-1, Republican voters have watched Democratic candidates lose the governor’s race in every election since 1990. In that sense, Connecticut is a America writ small: For most of the last 30 years, voters have elected Democrats to the legislature to bring home the bacon, while electing Republicans to the top spot to hold the spending in check and turn off the lights at night.
So it wasn’t much of a surprise when GOP bigwigs started calling for the head of party chairman Chris Healy after a 2010 election in which Republicans not only lost the governorship, but failed to win even one of the state’s five congressional seats, or the U.S. Senate seat vacated by Chris Dodd. Adding to the misery, the GOP lost in all the other statewide constitutional races as well.
And recent history hasn’t been much kinder to the party. Since convicted felon and Republican Gov. John G. Rowland resigned in disgrace in 2004, over the next four years, the GOP lost 20 seats in the state House of Representatives and three U.S. House seats (Nancy Johnson, Rob Simmons, Chris Shays).
And some party elders never forgave Healy last year when the state Republican convention dumped Simmons and tapped wealthy wrestling magnate Linda McMahon as its endorsed candidate for U.S. Senate. And it did not sit well that Healy’s wife, Suzan Bibisi, was a well compensated consultant for the McMahon campaign.
Healy, who has been chair of the Republican State Central Committee for four and a half years, touted the party’s successes on the municipal level and pointed to the fact that in 2010 he had increased Republican representation in both the House and Senate so as to eliminate the Democrats’ veto-proof majorities. But that last point is largely irrelevant since Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy is unlikely to veto a bill coming out of the Democratic-controlled General Assembly.
A sizable list of candidates has emerged to vie for Healy’s office. That sort of begs the question: why would anyone want the job? After all, being the chairman of the Republican State Central Committee — the very name sounds like a relic from the old Soviet Politburo — isn’t exactly a glamorous job in a state in which the party’s influence is waning and power of the party bosses themselves has eroded since the days of John Bailey and Meade Alcorn.
Heck, even Healy himself has said it’s time for him “to get a real job.”
On the positive side, there is nowhere to go but up. Four-term U.S. Sen. Joseph Lieberman, an “independent Democrat,” is retiring next year, presenting a golden opportunity for the Republicans to offer a plausible candidate to serve as a counterweight to the reflexive progressivism of freshman Sen. Richard Blumenthal. And it can only be seen as good news that Waterbury Mayor Michael Jarjura, who lost last year in a Democratic primary for state comptroller, defected this week to the GOP.
Still, it will be an uphill battle in a state that defied the trend toward the GOP in 2010. Sort of like the Red Sox trying to fend off the surging Yankees down the stretch — always difficult, but not impossible if you have a hero with a bloody sock.
Terry Cowgill blogs at terrycowgill.blogspot.com and was an award-winning editor and senior writer for The Lakeville Journal Company. He is host of Conversations with Terry Cowgill, an hour-long monthly interview program on CATV6 on Comcast’s northwest Connecticut system.