Pretty darn safe. For now. Jahana Hayes won a big victory in Nancy Johnson’s old stomping grounds on November 6, as what was once a reliable Republican district continues its seemingly unstoppable march into Democratic hands.
Johnson, a Republican who held the district and one of its predecessors, the old 6th Congressional District, for over two decades, was defeated in a high-profile race in 2006 by a state senator named Chris Murphy. She might not recognize the place now. The conservative working-class Democrats of the Naugatuck Valley became Republicans, while the wealthy suburbanites in the vote-rich Farmington Valley started voting for Democrats.
The result? A district that hasn’t been remotely competitive since 2012, and safe, dull wins for Democrats against low-profile Republicans.
But how safe is the district? How safe are any of the three districts Democrats wrested from Republican hands in 2006 and 2008? Let’s go to the maps to find out.
In each district I looked at two things: how each town voted in 2016, and how they voted for Republicans for Congress, Senate, and governor in 2018. I wanted to see how far the Republican vote could spread in each district, and use that as a way of speculating how likely it is that a district would be competitive for Republicans in the near future.
To put it shortly, I’m trying to figure out a district’s willingness to vote GOP at all for top offices. That in turn affects how “safe” each district is likely to remain.
5th Congressional District
There are quite a few towns that both voted for Donald Trump in 2016 and then turned around and voted for Jahana Hayes this year. There are even more towns that voted for Hayes but also voted for Bob Stefanowski and/or Matthew Corey (Sen. Murphy’s GOP opponent).
There’s a cluster of straight-ticket GOP towns around Waterbury, they’re part of the Republican heartland in the interior western portion of the state. Towns that voted for Corey and Stefanowski but supported Hayes are up near Torrington. The rest of the light pink on the map is where Stefanowski and Hayes both won.
What makes this district safe, though, is strong support for Democrats in Danbury, New Britain, Meriden, and Waterbury and the increasing Democratic lean of the Farmington Valley. Wealthy, formerly Republican Simsbury voted for Lamont, Murphy, and Hayes, for example. In fact, only a single Republican, State Sen. Kevin Witkos, won Simsbury—and he won by just a hair.
Could this district flip? It’s possible, but increasingly unlikely. If Hayes remains reasonably popular with her constituents she could stay in Congress for a long, long time.
2nd Congressional District
Rep. Joe Courtney famously won this district by under 100 votes in 2006, but he hasn’t had a remotely competitive race since. But this is the 2nd, a place notorious for being unpredictable.
The Republican vote potential is pretty high here, despite Courtney losing only a single town in 2018. The Trump vote was surprisingly strong in this rural district, especially near the Rhode Island border. Clinton support tended to cluster around UConn and down on the coast. This year saw decent support for Matt Corey in those Trump towns, and very high support for Bob Stefanowski all across the district. There were very few towns that voted Democrat for Congress, Senate, and governor.
So could this district flip? Probably not while Joe Courtney is in office. He’s very popular with his constituents, he understands their needs, and he represents the district well. He’s the sort of understated, hardworking guy who people in this part of the state really like.
But if Courtney decides to leave office, this district could become competitive again—fast. The votes are there, just waiting for the right Republican to come along and earn them.
4th Congressional District
The 4th was the final district to flip to the Democrats after years of close, hard-fought, high-profile races. The district had been held by moderate-to-liberal Republicans for forty years before: Lowell Weicker, Stewart McKinney, and then Christopher Shays. Republican bastions in the wealthy suburbs of lower Fairfield County had once guaranteed this seat for the GOP.
But the maps show a very different district now. Donald Trump found very little support here in 2016—most towns went solidly for Hillary Clinton. In 2018 Republicans struggled here. Bob Stefanowski picked up a few towns, but otherwise the district was remarkably Democrat-leaning. There are pockets of strong GOP support, but they’re fading. Greenwich voted for Himes and Murphy, and sent Democrats to the state senate and house for the first time in generations.
Jim Himes is safe here. And when he leaves office, his successor will be, too. The Republican votes are not there to flip it, and prevailing political trends guarantee they won’t be for a long time.
Then again, 2008 was only a decade ago. Sometimes things change faster than we expect.