Since insurgent Democrat Chris Murphy dethroned longtime Congresswoman Nancy Johnson in 2006, Republicans have been trying to figure out how to the return Connecticut’s 5th congressional district to GOP hands.
And from the moment Murphy decided to move on to the Senate in 2012, there have been two failed attempts to defeat Democrat Elizabeth Esty, who always has be on her guard in the most Republican-leaning district of the five in the state.
Moderate Republican state Sen. Andrew Roraback came within a couple of percentage points of reclaiming the seat, losing to Esty in a nail-biter. In 2014, the Republicans put up right-wing Litchfield businessman and tea party sympathizer Mark Greenberg, who was promptly routed by Esty.
Now the Republicans might have come to their senses. So far the leading GOP candidate to defeat Esty is something of an oddity. He doesn’t have the name recognition or the extensive Rolodex of a Roraback, and nor will he be the darling of the hard right like Greenberg was.
You won’t find many Republicans like the nerdy 53-year-old Clay Cope: a gay former marketing executive with a fashion design firm in New York who bought a home in Sherman and now lives full-time there with his Peruvian partner.
Originally from Texas, Cope is on a track common to many part-time residents in far western Connecticut. Buy a weekend home to get away from the Manhattan rat race. Move there full-time the first chance you get to pull yourself away from your work. Then become involved by volunteering your time and expertise to a town board or commission.
As is often the case, former Republican lawmaker and Courant columnist Kevin Rennie is right. Shortly after Cope was re-elected to a third term as Sherman’s first selectman last November, Rennie told readers of his Daily Ructions blog to “Keep an eye on him for higher office.”
In a recent interview with my colleague Matt DeRienzo, Cope said he climbed the town ladder much as he climbed the corporate ladder. He joined the Sherman Library Association Board of Trustees, eventually becoming president and stewarding a major renovation. He became a lector at Holy Trinity Roman Catholic Church and served two terms on the Planning and Zoning Commission before deciding to challenge and unseat a four-term incumbent as first selectman.
As you might expect from a local official in the nascent stages of running for federal office, Cope is short on specific policy positions. But judging from his interview with DeRienzo, it looks like his initial campaign mantra is reminiscent of the security moms we’ve heard about in the last two election cycles: “jobs security and border security.”
In a separate interview with CTNewsJunkie editor Christine Stuart, Cope pronounced himself a firm believer in the Second Amendment. Among his duties at Sherman Town Hall is to personally sign off on all gun permit requests in the town, whose population is less than 4,000.
Predictably, the state Democratic Party produced a news release that barely mentioned Cope by name but suggested he would be in lock-step with the Republicans in Congress on the issue of “common-sense gun safety.” Evidently, the party bosses don’t like the term “gun control” anymore.
As for border security, Cope says he has a window into the topic. His life partner, Andres Sanchez, immigrated to the United States from Lima. Cope says he is for legal immigration but just wants to make sure people sign the guestbook on the way in.
And there’s more. He told DeRienzo that, unlike Esty, “I would not have voted against pushing the pause button on the Syrian refugees . . . I’m extremely concerned about the evil of ISIS and that there are murderers out to kill us.” That’s the same position taken by Republican Gov. Charlie Baker of Massachusetts.
Cope says the only people who ask him about his sexual orientation are journalists. Just as Barack Obama does not want to be branded as the black president, so too does Cope eschew the label of LGBT office seeker. “I’m not a gay candidate. I’m a candidate,” he said. “I’m proud of who I am. I’m very comfortable.”
Of his newfound critics in the state Democratic Party: “Why are they trying to put me in some type of a box?” he asked Stuart. “They don’t know me.”
Yes, I can relate. I get that a lot too, Clay. Most people have this compulsion to categorize those who take positions on the issues. And they’re often frustrated if they can’t put you in that box.
Meanwhile, be prepared to be stuffed into more boxes as you hash out your positions on more issues. And that’s something you’d better do soon. Meanwhile, if you want to win, I would lose Greenberg, who was standing right behind you at your announcement at Danbury City Hall.
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