Despite what we hear from malcontents, there are hundreds of thousands of people who are thrilled to live in Connecticut. I’m not one of them, though I do like it, even if, as a retiree, I’m not exactly delighted with the cost of living and the four months of winter. But I must confess that, as a political columnist, I do love the part of Connecticut I live in. That’s because the biennial election to represent the 5th Congressional District, where I’ve hung my hat since 1990, is almost always a competitive race. This year is no exception, though precisely how close the race is remains an open question.

Incumbent two-term Democrat Jahana Hayes is running for re-election against businessman and former Republican state Sen. George Logan in a district that was merged with the now-defunct 6th after the 2000 census.

The oddly-shaped district stretches from the Northwest Corner as far south as Newtown and as far east as the Farmington Valley. True to its reputation as a swing district, the 5th includes the rural municipalities of Litchfield County, but also exurban New Milford, as well as the Waterbury suburbs, many of which lean Republican. In addition to Waterbury, the redrawn 5th also includes the small-to-mid-sized cities of Torrington, Danbury, New Britain and Meriden, which lean Democratic in voter registration.

The addition of those cities is likely why moderate Republican and former state Sen. Andrew Roraback lost a close race for the 5th district seat to Elizabeth Esty 10 years ago. Roraback won 31 of 41 municipalities in the district, but Esty racked up big margins in the aforementioned cities, except for Torrington, where Roraback, who lived in adjacent Goshen, was well known.

State and national Republicans feel they have a realistic shot at taking back the seat, which in one form or another, had mostly been in Republican hands for 26 years until Nancy Johnson was soundly defeated in 2006 by current U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy.

The Cook Partisan Voting Index rates the 5th as the least Democratic district in a state that has had an all-Democratic congressional delegation since 2008 when Chris Shays was defeated by Democrat Jim Himes in the 4th district. Donald Trump received nearly 46% of the 5th’s vote in the 2016 presidential election. Joe Biden received more than 54% in 2020.

Polls have consistently shown the race to be a close one, though, as you might expect, incumbent Hayes has consistently outperformed her opponent in the fundraising department. Hayes is favored by roughly a 3-1 margin by FiveThirtyEight, while the seat “leans Democratic,” according to Politico, which gives Hayes the edge in incumbency and fundraising while rating the race a toss-up in candidate quality and long-term trends.

National groups have been funneling resources into the race, mostly to fund television and online advertising. A conservative group ran ads touting Logan’s biography as a businessman and the son of immigrants from Latin America and the Caribbean. A second ad attacks Hayes for taking a rosy view of the economy and being “out of touch,” in part for insisting that “Democrats single-handedly saved the economy,” despite high inflation and lack of affordability caused in part, self-styled fiscal conservative Logan says, by big spending bills that Hayes voted for in Congress.

Like most GOP candidates in Connecticut, however, Logan is mostly silent on the subject of affordable housing. As is the case with GOP gubernatorial candidate Bob Stefanowski, the subject is nowhere to be found on Logan’s website. That’s probably because, to many of Logan’s conservative supporters, “affordable housing” conjures up images of the state overriding local zoning codes and allowing developers to build lower-income apartment buildings in leafy single-family neighborhoods such as mine.

Meanwhile, like many other congressional candidates, the Hayes campaign is campaigning on hot-button issues such as reproductive rights for women. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee released an ad at the end of August entitled, “It’s all on the line,” attacking Logan for siding with “extreme Republicans” on the subject of abortion rights. This despite the fact that Logan has done no such thing, unless you think supporting any restrictions at all on late-term abortions to be “extreme.”

It’s easy to see why Hayes has adopted this course of action. Conventional wisdom is that there will be a “red wave” in November. Typically, the party that controls the White House suffers significant congressional losses in the midterm elections. Ergo, using reproductive freedom as a wedge issue would seem to be a smart strategy in the wake of the panic felt by abortion rights advocates after the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent decision overturning Roe vs. Wade, a precedent which Logan nonetheless said he supported.

Polls have consistently shown Hayes with a single-digit lead. But a recent internal Republican poll showed the two at a 45-45 dead heat. It goes without saying that election observers should be highly skeptical about internal poll results. Pollsters have an incentive to use sampling methods that will produce an outcome that the client wants. To wit, the aforementioned poll was conducted by the Tarrance Group and commissioned by the Congressional Leadership Fund, a Republican super PAC aligned with House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy.

The upshot is that it’s likely Logan is within striking distance of Hayes but the odds are still against him because of Hayes’ advantage in the cities and some of the rural towns that have flipped to blue in the last 20 years. Another sign that the race is close is that Logan is generally remaining calm and focused on the economy. This is in stark contrast to Stefanowski, whose failing campaign remains unfocused and has recently taken on an air of desperation. Do you think maybe Stefanoswki’s internal polls are telling an entirely different story than the one McCarthy’s group commissioned for Logan?

Contributing op-ed columnist Terry Cowgill lives in Lakeville, is a Substack columnist and is the retired managing editor of The Berkshire Edge in Great Barrington, Mass. Follow him on Twitter @terrycowgill or email him here.

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