NEW HAVEN, CT — Even though he was surrounded by nothing but supporters when he wrapped up his 70-mile walk through Connecticut Sunday at Long Wharf in New Haven, U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy said he found something different this year in his third trek across the state.
“Congress is not super popular these days,” Murphy told the crowd at the plaza across from the dozens of food trucks that populate Long Wharf in New Haven. “And it’s because people don’t think Congress is listening to them.”
For the past three years, Murphy has taken a different path through Connecticut to see if he can cut through some of the noise and talk to average citizens.
“People are nervous like I haven’t seen before,” the senator said. Asked what people are nervous about, he ticked off: “Immigration, health care, job creation, taxes.”
Murphy said he does these walks because he gets the kind of interaction and conversation with constituents that he never has sitting behind his desk in Washington.
In this latest walk, he started in Hartland and made it through 15 Connecticut towns before ending in New Haven Sunday.
Murphy, who is running for re-election this November, didn’t meet only friends in his trek.
He said in a daily blog he wrote about the walk that a few residents stopped to talk to him about their opposition to open borders and their support for President Donald Trump’s get-tough-on-immigration policies.
But they were still the minority. Many more, Murphy said, talked to him about their outrage over an immigration policy that saw more than 2,300 children separated from their parents at the southern U.S. border.
“I heard about this over and over again,” Murphy said, calling the policy of separating immigrant children from their parents “reckless, evil, and racist.”
At the end of his daily walks, Murphy held town hall meetings and again the issue of immigration policy dominated, though Trump’s upcoming nominee to the Supreme Court also was discussed.
Murphy said the whole immigration and open border discussion is a tough one for him.
“I’ve never met a Democrat in Congress who wants open borders or who doesn’t believe in enforcing immigration laws,” Murphy said. “But when you start from a place in which people think that’s what Democrats believe in, it makes it tough to have a rational conversation.
“Similarly, when Democrats believe that the underlying motivation for people who have concerns about undocumented workers in this country is racism, it makes the conversation tough, too,” Murphy said. “So we’ve both got to come out of our corners in order to have a more rational dialogue.”
One of the best parts of Murphy’s walk this year was that on Saturday and Sunday he had two of the most beautiful — sunny but low humidity — weather days to walk.
And, on Saturday, he had an added bonus when he hit Whitney Avenue in Hamden.
“The day ends with one more surprise — my wife Cathy comes to meet me and walk with me for the last mile!” Murphy said.
The walk didn’t start out as well for Murphy with respect to the weather. The state was at the end of a multi-day heatwave when he set out on Thursday.
“I walk away tired, but real excited and energized to get back to work in Washington,” Murphy said.
One of those who was among the large crowd whooping it up when Murphy walked up Long Wharf was Kim Hart of New Haven.
“We appreciate him,” Hart said. “We appreciate what he’s done. In a lot of ways Connecticut is a trend-setter for the rest of the country in passing needed legislation and he’s a big part of that.”
Hart and a large group she was there with were handing out pamphlets urging Congress to support the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), which is the food stamp program run by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Hart said she’s worried the program will be cut in the coming years.
The Senate bill, in favor of which Murphy voted, keeps the program intact; the House passed a bill making major cuts to SNAP.
Murphy said he was also inspired Sunday by meeting a group of New Haven young people who were fundraising as he walked by so their basketball team could enter an out-of-state tournament.
“It’s seeing something like that which is why I do this walk,” Murphy said. “It helps keep you connected to what really counts.”
While Murphy was surrounded by supporters in New Haven, the walk also had its critics.
One of the two Republicans who is waging an underdog campaign to try and stop Murphy from winning a second term took a shot at the walk.
Matt Corey, the Republican-endorsed candidate, said unlike Murphy he has already visited and worked in nearly every town and city in Connecticut.
Corey, a small business owner, said: “I am inviting Chris Murphy to join me for just one day as I clean the windows on a high-rise building in Connecticut.”
Corey also faces a challenge for the Republican nomination from Apple executive Dominic Rapini. Neither of the two have been able to raise the money necessary to compete with Murphy. Through the end of April, Rapini had raised $151,000 and Corey had raised $18,200. Murphy has raised $12 million for his re-election campaign through the same period.
Last year, Murphy’s walk was 103 miles — from Killingly to Danbury.
The year before, Murphy walked 128 miles of the Connecticut shoreline from Voluntown (near the Rhode Island border) to Greenwich.
Murphy said one of the reasons his walk was shorter this year — both by distance and days, is that his schedule became tighter because the Senate is being called back to work in August from its usual summer recess.