Connecticut U.S. Senator Chris Murphy. Credit: File Photo / CTNewsJunkie

Of all the congressional districts in Connecticut (there are five, by the way), it’s the Hartford area’s 1st District gaining much attention this month.

Certainly, its future design has led our state legislature’s Reapportionment Commission to delay and leave our state Supreme Court to adjust its continued “lobster claw” design around Farmington Valley towns. But Connecticut’s 1st Congressional District has been led by Democrat John Larson for decades and now he has some competition since Muad Hrezi announced his candidacy for the party nomination in this year’s midterm election. West Hartford physician Larry Lazor is also seeking the Republican Party nomination. 

This 1st District competition is promising since Connecticut’s delegation rarely gets internal party competition. During a radio appearance a few years ago, when I mentioned my congresswoman, Rosa DeLauro, facing a primary challenge by a Milford alderman (Bryan Anderson), I received an immediate phone call from her campaign staff. Mere mention of such intra-party competition sparked concern, as though Connecticut Democrats are unable to keep factions together. 

By their institutional nature though, political parties are divisive spaces. Not everyone in a political party gets along, even if operatives and politicos suggest otherwise. A great example of this is what’s been happening this week in Washington over ending the filibuster rule in the U.S. Senate to try to pass voting rights reforms. Senators Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) and Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) sided with Republicans instead of their party. 

My CTNewsJunkie colleague, Susan Bigelow, offered in her column that Larson’s competition is rare. What she didn’t mention is that the candidate’s former boss has been mentoring and even supporting his former staffers for public office around Connecticut. Politically, U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy would be considered a party “boss” with disciples and the ability to finance campaign war chests. 

Could it be that beyond the usual Democratic State Central Committee and local party town committees, Murphy has his own machinery? It has seemed like it over the years, especially with his Fight Back CT organization to engage more Democratic candidates and voters. As a former New Jersey voter, I’ve seen this play out with fellow Democrat Bob Menendez, for example. The senator has politically supported and financed local, state and congressional candidates, as well as dodged corruption charges.  

Connecticut should know more about what’s been taking place with Murphy and his political machinery. Murphy’s former and current campaign and office staff are a virtual Who’s Who in Connecticut politics, especially in recent elections. Beyond Hrezi, state Rep. Sean Scanlon (D-Guilford) worked for Murphy and announced this week his candidacy for state comptroller. Hamden’s Peter Cyr, who was a mayoral candidate last year, also worked for the senator. And Murphy’s financial and political support for U.S. Rep. Jahanna Hayes (D-5th) are no secret, even though she did not work for him.

Murphy may be a political boss, but have he and others been frustrated with the state and local Democratic party committees? It’s likely, especially since so many of these new candidates seek Murphy’s financial and political support. And now they’re challenging incumbents like Larson and former Hamden Mayor Curtis Leng.  

Let’s face it, too many of Connecticut’s party elite and elected officials have been in office and run party committees for years – and even generations. Change in Connecticut politics is long overdue. But it makes me wonder if the 1st District congressional race is a generational challenge, political sparring or a power grab. It could be all the above. Even though Murphy has not endorsed Hrezi, Connecticut’s senator has ignited some change. Will incumbents and party officials recognize the spark? Maybe, but voters should know what’s been simmering all along.

Editor’s Note: Murphy has endorsed Larson’s re-election campaign. He recently tweeted: “Nobody works harder than John. Nobody cares more about the Hartford region than John. So proud to have him as my mentor and colleague. Glad he’s all in for another term.” 

Jonathan L. Wharton, Ph.D., is an associate professor of political science and urban affairs at Southern Connecticut State University in New Haven.

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