Even though he disagrees with many of President Barack Obama’s policies, Justin Bernier said he supports president’s recent decision to withdraw 33,000 troops by the end of next year.

Bernier, a naval intelligence officer four years ago, believes the draw down will force the national and local governments to make the country more “livable.”

“We haven’t had the large handoff in security responsibilities that we’ve been talking about for 10 years,” Bernier said in a recent interview at his Plainville headquarters. “That’s the key to getting Afghanistan sorted out.”

“We’re never going to be able to get it to first-world status in our lifetime,” he said.
“I think the literacy rate is two percent. But what we can do is give them the responsibility that they need to get the country back to a livable situation.”

“Every provincial governor and mayor is appointed by the president of Afghanistan,” Bernier said. “This leads to corruption in a lot of communities. You’ve got to have local elections.”

He said the capture in May of al Qaeda terrorist leader Osama bin Laden “is going to be very demoralizing for the enemy,” but cautioned that the terrorist operations will continue.

“They’ll find somebody to pin their hopes on, although he won’t have as high a profile,” he said.

Bernier, 35, a Navy reservist who volunteered for a seven-month assignment in Afghanistan, said a year ago when he was running for the same congressional seat that he was the only candidate with national security credentials, which was important with two wars going on.

Before serving in Afghanistan, he was an aide to former U.S. Rep. Rob Simmons and as director of former Gov. M. Jodi Rell’s Office of Military Affairs he led the information campaign in 2005 that kept the Defense Base Closure And Realignment Commission (BRAC) from closing the Groton submarine base—a decision that he said would have devastated Connecticut’s economy and put the Electric Boat shipyard in jeopardy.

What a difference a year makes.

Last August, then-state Sen. Sam Caligiuri took 40 percent of the vote in the Republican primary with Bernier placing second with 32 percent. Democrat Chris Murphy captured a third term by defeating Caligiuri in the general election with 54 percent of the vote.

Bernier is now running for the Republican nod against Litchfield real estate developer Mark Greenberg, who petitioned his way into last year’s primary ballot after not receiving enough support at the convention. He also faces former FBI Agent Mike Clark, who helped put former Gov. John G. Rowland behind bars, and Simsbury business woman Lisa Wilson-Foley, who ran last year for lieutenant governor.

He said his campaign is much further ahead of where it was at this point two years ago, noting that he has hired campaign manager Scott Will, who was deputy campaign manager for Republican U.S. Senate candidate Linda McMahon last year, and he already has the support of 60 “Republican leaders” in the district, including some who supported Caligiuri last year.

Bernier said two years ago he didn’t even have a headquarters at this point.

Caligiuri, who announced in February that he wouldn’t make a second bid, said, “The primary was an enormous problem for me last year, because I was down to almost zero money afterwards and Chris Murphy was sitting on $2 million.”

Murphy, who lives in Cheshire, announced last January that he would run for U.S. Sen. Joseph Lieberman’s seat. Lieberman announced his retirement one day before Murphy announced. 

This marks the first time since 1990 that there won’t be an incumbent running in the Fifth District, which covers 41 municipalities through the northwest part of the state.

“If there is a year when the Republican can win the general election after a primary, then 2012 probably will be the year,” Caligiuri said. “There is no incumbent and the Democrats will probably have a primary since they have four candidates. But if our party leaders step up more in 2012 than they did in 2010 and the Republicans can avoid a primary, think of how much of an outstanding plus that would be going into the general election.”

Bernier, who noted that the Fifth District is considered the most Republican of the congressional districts in Connecticut, said “a primary can be beneficial if it’s done in a positive way.”

He became a father seven weeks before the last primary, when his wife, Jennie, who works for the FBI, gave birth to their daughter, Renee, who is now 13 months old.

“When you hear a politician announce that they’re not going to run again because they want to spend more time with their family you should believe them,” Bernier said when asked about the strenuous campaign commitments.

He said when possible they go to events together, noting, for example, that they traveled to New Fairfield for the Independence Day parade.

Regarding issues, Bernier said as was the case when he first campaigned two years ago, many voters are talking about the weak economy.

“I hear from families every day that are considering leaving Connecticut,” he said, noting that Jeff Wright, the Republican candidate for state treasurer last year, resigned as mayor of Newington and moved to Texas because if offered more economic opportunities.

“There’s a feeling among voters that America could potentially be in decline and the politicians aren’t doing anything about it,” Bernier said.

Bernier raised more than $140,000 in the second quarter and $221,000 since entering the race in January.