For political junkies of all stripes, nothing beats a wide-open race in a swing congressional district with a cast of colorful characters. And it’s even better if the incumbent has jumped ship in a bid for higher office.
Yes, we’re talking about Connecticut’s 5th congressional district — known among the cognoscenti as CT05. This year’s race has attracted the most media attention since 2006 when Chris Murphy surged out of the state Senate to defeat Nancy Johnson, the 12-term moderate Republican who had overstayed her welcome and melted down in the wake of her ties to pharmaceutical companies and her support of President Bush’s Iraq war policy.
Now that Murphy has run for the Senate seat of the retiring Joe Lieberman, the CT05 race features plenty of Democrats eager to succeed him and several motivated Republicans who want to return CT05 to GOP hands.
What makes CT05 fascinating is that by Connecticut standards, it has evolved into perhaps the most Republican-leaning district in a blue state. The 4th district, which includes most of Fairfield County’s Gold Coast, used to hold that distinction. But upscale voters there have trended blue in recent years, voting in 2008 for Barack Obama for president over John McCain by a margin of 58-40 percent, and giving the congressional nod to Democrat Jim Himes over longtime incumbent Chris Shays, the moderate Republican now running for — you guessed it — Lieberman’s Senate seat.
After the 2000 census, Connecticut’s House delegation was reduced to five. Two years later, CT05 essentially swallowed up the old 6th district, so Republican strongholds such as Waterbury and Danbury joined GOP-leaning Torrington and Johnson’s hometown of New Britain to form what by Connecticut standards is a fairly conservative region. The result is a highly competitive district that contrasts sharply with the sleepy incumbent-safe environment of the state’s four other districts.
The races are so hotly contested that the Journal-Register newspapers have established a stand-alone website just to keep track of them. An anonymous blog, The Queen’s View, recently surfaced to offer tart commentary on the GOP side. QV features regular attacks on one of the leading Republican contenders, state Sen. Andrew Roraback, while appearing to favor former lieutenant governor candidate Lisa Wilson-Foley. QV also has nice things to say about senatorial candidate Linda McMahon. If I had to guess, I’d say former Republican State Central Committee Chairman Chris Healy is involved. The colorful and quotable Healy, a former newspaper reporter who recently deleted his own controversial blog, is a senior adviser to Wilson-Foley. His wife, Suzan Bibisi, worked for McMahon 2010.
But perhaps most curious, as blogger Kevin Rennie reports, former Gov. John Rowland, who used to represent CT05 in Congress, has gotten into the act, unsuccessfully urging at least one GOP delegate from Harwinton to go against his own wishes and endorse Wilson-Foley. Since Rowland, a convicted felon driven from office in 2004, is seeking redemption as a talk-show host for WTIC radio, his ethics as a commentator have been called into question.
The Democratic side also features some heavy-hitters, including a sitting speaker of the state House of Representatives, Chris Donovan, and Elizabeth Esty, a former state representative and wife of Department of Energy and Environmental Protection Commissioner Daniel C. Esty
Donovan is apparently so concerned about his lengthy voting record in the Capitol that he has asked the other Democratic candidates to agree to a ban on negative campaign ads. All, save Esty, promptly consented. Good for her. So far anyway, things haven’t gotten nasty among the Dems. As you might expect, it’s a different story with the GOP.
The battle to succeed Murphy had even garnered national attention. The GOP race features candidates who clearly will be in the run for what the Republican National Committee calls “Young Gun” status. Promising congressional candidates, so designated if they have a strong chance of flipping their district’s seat to the GOP, are introduced to major donors who could make a difference in their campaigns. Across the aisle, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has dubbed CT05 a key swing district and a “top-tier race.”
Let’s hope so. From Salisbury to Meriden, denizens of CT05 have had a boring six years. Now if we could only rid ourselves of a certain ex-governor.