If you’re looking for evidence of the dysfunction of the national Republican Party, look no further than its candidates for national office right here in the state of Connecticut.
To wit, how many of Connecticut’s major GOP candidates for Senate and Congress will be making the trek to Tampa for the Republican National Convention late next month? By my count, one—Senate office seeker Chris Shays, a longtime former congressman and Washington creature, who will also be a delegate at the convention. Looks like the others will be taking a pass.
How could it be that aspiring members of Congress would pass up the opportunity to increase their profiles and network with prominent establishment figures in one of the most powerful political parties in the world? The most common excuse seems to be that they all have more important things to do.
“I’m running for Congress, and I’m going to be busy campaigning,” 5th district congressional candidate Andrew Roraback told the CT Mirror. “The voters whose trust I am working to earn will be here and not in Florida.”
Roraback’s chief rival for the GOP nomination, Lisa Wilson-Foley, will also be staying home, as will 4th-district Republican Steve Obsitnik, who is running to replace Democrat Jim Himes in the state’s other competitive congressional race. An Obsitnik spokesman said the candidate “would much rather speak with voters here.”
By contrast, outgoing 5th district Congressman Chris Murphy, a Democrat, will attend his party’s national convention in Charlotte, as will rival Susan Bysiewicz if she beats Murphy for the nomination for the retiring U.S. Sen.Joe Lieberman’s seat.
Linda McMahon, frontrunner for the GOP Senate nomination, is also skipping the convention, telling the Huffington Post “our focus is going to be on campaigning in Connecticut.”
To be fair, there are prominent elected officials in other parts of the country who are skipping their party’s quadrennial conferences, too. But the situation is particularly delicate in Connecticut, where moderate Republicans are the order of the day. If the party succeeds in retaking the 5th-district seat after the long reign of Nancy Johnson ended in 2006, the state will likely have the only Republican House seat in New England.
So is it any wonder that Nutmegger Republicans don’t want to be seen rubbing elbows with the likes of Rand Paul, Rick Perry and Newt Gingrich—all of whom have approval ratings in Connecticut that rival those of Genghis Khan? An appearance at the convention might play well with GOP primary voters but any candidate photographed with the likes of John Boehner would surely see that image used against him/her in the general election.
So Connecticut GOPers soldier on, pretending to be anything but latter-day Republicans. And it’s no wonder. The party of Lincoln has been marching steadily rightward for at least 20 years.
From abortion to taxes, the Connecticut GOP is out of step with the national party. The last pro-life Republican member of Congress I can recall was the 1980s-era John Rowland, who promptly became pro-choice once he decided to run for governor in 1990. And plenty of Republican lawmakers in Hartford have voted to raise our taxes over the years—something that is anathema to the Tea Party philosophy currently roiling the halls under the Capitol dome in Washington.
But the reaction on the part of Republican candidates to the recent U. S. Supreme Court ruling on Obamacare has been most revealing. As they do on so many issues, GOP office seekers have had to walk a tightrope between primary voters on the one side and likely general election voters on the other.
The Affordable Care Act is still deeply unpopular among Connecticut Republicans, but there’s evidence that the healthcare law is gaining steam among Democrats and independents, especially in the wake of the revelation that the high court’s affirmation of Obamcare’s constitutionality may have saved the state $100 million or more. Indeed, some healthcare advocates are even calling for the state go farther than Obamacare and offer a genuine public option.
Nevertheless, most of the GOP candidates have gone out of their way to slam either the law or the the court’s decision. Among 5th-district candidates, reaction ran the gamut from simple hyperbole to apocalyptic doom. Justin Bernier even called President Obama “a liar” for proposing to finance Obamacare with what the high court later determined was a tax, despite assurances from the White House to the contrary. Roraback was more measured, adding that “the power to determine the future of Obamacare and our nation’s health care policy returns to Congress.”
Calling for repeal, Shays slammed the law as “destructive” and “a power grab.” Earlier this week, McMahon penned an op-ed for CT News Junkie in which she branded the law “bad medicine” that “represents the largest tax increase in American history.”
Won’t it be interesting to see whether those opinions hold up in the fall for the eventual nominees? In neighboring Massachusetts, whose Republicans have a lot in common with ours, GOP Senate nominee Scott Brown campaigned in 2010 against Obamacare and won his race. But the Bay State already had a similar law, Romneycare, in place. So Brown’s opposition to Obamacare didn’t necessarily alienate Democrats and independents who cherish the notion of universal care.
Can the Republican nominees in Connecticut pull off the same feat? Or will they avoid talking about Obamacare in the fall? No and yes, in that order. Watch them run from the issue. And once again, watch them run from the mainstream of their own party in an effort to get elected.
Terry Cowgill blogs at ctdevilsadvocate.com, is the editor of ctessentialpolitics.com and was an award-winning editor and senior writer for The Lakeville Journal Company.