U.S. Rep. Chris Murphy said he’s building his U.S. Senate campaign “in people’s living rooms and front porches” just as he did five years ago when toppled 24-year veteran U.S. Rep. Nancy Johnson.

“The ultimate success of this campaign is going to be the strength of our volunteers,” he said last Sunday after speaking to a dozen area Democratic Town Committee members at a home in Stratford.

Murphy said that since he’s in Washington on most week nights and sometimes can’t attend the regularly scheduled Democratic Town Committee meetings , the weekend house parties have allowed him to enlist support in the three-way race for the party’s nomination to succeed U.S. Sen. Joe Lieberman of Stamford, who announced in January that he would not seek a fifth term.

Murphy is one of three candidates vying for the Democratic nomination. He’s running against former Secretary of the State Susan Bysiewicz of Middletown and state Rep. William Tong of Stamford.

A Quinnipiac University poll released last week had Murphy leading former Secretary of the State Susan Bysiewicz of Middletown 36 to 26 percent with state Rep. William Tong of Stamford taking one percent in a hypothetical Democratic primary next August. The poll indicated that 35 percent of the likely Democratic voters are undecided.

“I believe Susan Bysiewicz is so driven by ambition,” said Tessa Marquis, a Milford Democratic Town Committee member who supports Murphy. “It’s not a question of a primary, but of what she’s going to do after the primary,”

“I don’t see good things coming out of a primary,” she said when asked about the potential obstacles facing Murphy. “It’s a waste of energy, money and time.”

The recent poll also showed Murphy defeating Linda McMahon of Greenwich, the former CEO of World Wrestling Entertainment, 49 to 38 percent in a hypothetical general election match-up. McMahon, who entered the race this week, lost to U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Greenwich, who was then the state attorney general, by more than 106,000 votes in 2010, even though she spent $50 million of her own money.

Former U.S. Rep. Chris Shays, attorney Brian Hill of Windsor and Vernon Mayor Jason McCoy also are seeking the GOP nomination.

“I look at the early independent polls with a grain of salt, but the signs are encouraging since they show that the more people get to know Chris the more they like him, and as his name recognition increases across the state that should bode well for our campaign,” Murphy’s campaign manager, Kenny Curran, said in a phone interview.

Murphy said he believes that McMahon is the GOP frontrunner, but added that he has won three elections in the most Republican congressional district in the Connecticut, which would be a huge advantage in a statewide race.

“Geography does matter,” he said, indicating that a Republican U.S. Senate candidate would usually expect to collectively win the Fifth District, a cluster of 41 municipalities in the northwest part of Connecticut, by 10 points.

Murphy said he was re-elected last November, surviving a Republican tide in which GOP gubernatorial candidate Tom Foley of Greenwich captured the Fifth District by “double digits” and McMahon outpolled Blumenthal, even though both of them lost statewide.

“Like it or not, money is going to be one of the determining factors in whether we win this phase or not,” added Murphy, who defeated Johnson five years ago even though she raised more than twice as much money.

“Right now, I’m the only [Democratic] candidate raising enough money to run this race,” he said.

As of the reporting period that ended in June, he had raised more than $2 million, well above the other contenders.

Murphy said he also has an online operation that is unprecedented for a Connecticut campaign.

“Facebook and Twitter have introduced brand new ways of creating a message,” he said. ”In the first two weeks of this campaign we had 2,000 people sign up to endorse our effort online. That couldn’t have even happened five years ago. Online organizing is a powerful tool now.”

Murphy said he also has picked up several early endorsements, including those of his four colleagues in Connecticut’s U.S. House delegation – Rosa DeLauro of New Haven, John Larson of East Hartford, Joe Courtney of Vernon and Jim Himes of Greenwich – all of whom have pledged to share their campaign volunteers.

In the Third District, several of the Stratford and Milford Democrats attending the house party said they support Murphy.

“He listens to the people and he knows the federal government,” said Janice Andersen, a Democratic State Central Committee member from Stratford.

“He’s very clearly a progressive Democrat, which I like,” said Dave Mooney, a member of the Stratford Democratic Town Committee, who hosted the event with his wife, Bonnie Reynolds.

Murphy told the area Democrats that the party needs to focus on “values” more often when discussing issues.

“We do a great job of talking about statistics and policy, and that’s important,” he said. “But we need to talk more about how we should not have a tax rate in which [billionaire] Warren Buffett is at half the rate as the people answering his phone. That’s a really good way to talk about tax reform.”

He said in the eight months since he entered the race he’s discovered that Connecticut is a diverse state.

“A lot of people in Washington think that Connecticut is one big suburb of New York,” Murphy said. “I’d like them to come here to see how diverse our state is. In my district alone, if you take a day to travel from Lakeville to Waterbury to Simsbury, you’ll think you’ve traveled to three different regions of the country.”

He said that voters are mostly concerned about the slow economic recovery.

“The job outlook is not changing and it makes people nervous,” Andersen said.

Murphy said he is generally pleased with President Obama’s recent $447 billion jobs plan and his pledge to travel the country to build support for it.

The congressman said the federal government needs to fund major infrastructure improvements, approve a middle class tax cut, encourage more manufacturing and continue to help ailing states and municipalities pay for teachers and other public employees.
Murphy said “the lingering housing problem also has sucked a lot of liquidity out of the middle class.”

“I think you have to have a federal lending program to refinance people to lower interest rate mortgages or at a longer term,” he said. “Clearly, the banks are not doing enough to help modify loan structures, and the federal government is going to have to step in with some sort of vehicle for refinancing.”

Editor’s note: This is the first in a series of profiles of the seven U.S. Senate candidates.