Christine Stuart file photo

A newcomer to politics, Lisa Wilson-Foley, one of the Republicans running for U.S. Rep. Chris Murphy’s vacated seat is not new to the issues in Fifth Congressional District and she’s proven she knows how to raise money.

As the only Republican woman in the race, and someone who has a background in health care, Wilson-Foley plans on being a strong candidate who can differentiate herself from the rest of the candidates vying for the chance to represent the 41 town district.

With a degree from the Yale School of Public Health, Wilson-Foley, started her professional career as a nursing home administrator, before opening up a health care marketing business, which evolved into her own physical therapy business.

It’s her health care background that may come in handy, at least during the first few months of the campaign when the debt ceiling and Medicare reform are being debated by Congress.

In a recent interview at her campaign headquarters, Wilson Foley said to help balance the federal budget she supports raising the eligibility age for Medicare benefits “higher” than U.S. Sen. Joe Lieberman’s controversial plan to boost it from 65 to 67.

“Our aging population is growing in leaps and bounds,” said Wilson-Foley. “There are more people living into their hundreds.”

“We didn’t have that when we implemented legislation for Medicare and Social Security,” she said.

Lieberman and U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn, a Republican from Texas, recently proposed a Medicare reform last month that would also increase cost sharing for senior citizens with financial means, a provision that Wilson-Foley also supports.

Debt Ceiling

Recently, Wilson Foley sent a letter to Lieberman, U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal and Murphy, calling on Congress to adopt a balanced budget amendment before raising the debt limit.

Wilson-Foley said she believes “steps” need to be taken to achieve a balanced budget within five years. She said her plan would make exceptions, for example, in case the country was fighting a war.

She said she is “okay” with U.S. House Speaker John Boehner’s decision to seek a smaller deficit reduction package than the $4 trillion that President Barack Obama has proposed during the current talks on raising the debt limit. The president’s package reportedly would include reductions in Social Security and Medicare spending as well as tax increases.

Wilson-Foley said raising taxes is “low” among her priorities, but added that she supports revamping the tax code to make it simpler.

Two of her opponents, Mark Greenberg and Justin Bernier, have both signed the Cut, Cap, Balance pledge , which says they would not raise the debt limit until spending is cut, capped, and a balanced budget amendment is passed.

A Different Kind of Candidate

Wilson-Foley owns several health care and sports facilities, including the Blue Fox Run golf course in Avon. Her husband, Brian, owns a spa and rehabilitation center. She has 1,500 employees in 14 of the 41 towns in the district and her relationships with them is one of the reasons she did so well during her race for lieutenant governor and came close to toppling Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton in the primary.

She said many of her employees volunteered on her last campaign and posted lawn signs in front of their homes.

Wilson-Foley said she will begin the daunting task of door-to-door campaigning over the coming months talking to voters and getting feedback on a wide variety of issues.

Just this week she announced she had raised an impressive $200,000. That’s just $30,000 shy of what Democratic Speaker of the House Chris Donovan announced in his race for the seat. Wilson-Foley and Donovan are the only two candidates vying for the seat to announce their fundraising totals for this quarter.

In the Republican primary contest Wilson-Foley faces Mike Clark of Farmington, Bernier of Plainville, and Greenberg of Litchfield, who failed to garner enough support for the seat at the Republican convention in 2010  but was able to gather enough signatures to get on the ballot.

Bernier lost the Republican primary nomination last year to former state Sen. Sam Caligiuri of Waterbury.

Brookfield Republican Town Committee Chairman Marty Flynn, who has not endorsed any candidate, said “a lot of people think Bernier has a good head start and is probably in the best position right now, but it’s still early.”

Bernier announced last month that 60 “Republican leaders” in the district had endorsed him.

Flynn said there is a strong chance the Republicans can recapture the district, since reports indicate that even White House economists believe the unemployment rate will be above 8 percent around election time and the high joblessness will hurt Democratic candidates.

Murphy has said last year’s race was the most difficult of his three campaigns in the Fifth District.