We're off to the races in Connecticut, with one red-hot House race in the Fourth District, and two solid freshman Dems looking to consolidate their support in the Second and Fifth Districts. The GOP has nominated their slate of candidates, and are ready to start the official campaign.
CT-02: Democrat "Landslide Joe" Courtney won election last year in one of the narrowest races in the country. Courtney edged Republican Rob Simmons by just 83 votes, a margin which is actually not unusual for the district. Former Representative Sam Gejdenson won reelection in 1994 by just 21 votes, and lost his seat to Simmons in 2002 by under 2,000 votes.
Courtney is a solid Democrat on national issues, and an outspoken opponent of the Iraq War. The district leans strongly Democratic at the presidential level (Gore won it by 14 points, and Kerry by 10), but it has placed a heavy emphasis in recent years on electing Representatives with the ability to deliver for the district, most particularly with regard to the submarine manufacturing base in Groton. The sub base is the district's largest employer, and Gejdenson lost in 2000 amid rumors of the base closing.
With the prominence of the submarine base in mind, the GOP recruited the former base commander, Captain Sean Sullivan, as their candidate. While this sounded promising for the Republicans initially (as much as any candidate would in a D+7.6 district in a Democratic year), the highly touted Sullivan has proven to be a fundraising dud. He has just over $100K on hand (and that number isn't increasing very quickly, as he pulled in a grand total of $3,000 in three weeks in April).
Former Republican Rep. Rob Simmons, who in 2006 lost narrowly to Courtney, the one-time Vernon town attorney, belittled his former opponent.
"If John McCain becomes the next president, who do you think he'll turn to for advice in Congress?" he asked Republicans gathered in Willimantic. "A town attorney from Vernon or a decorated Navy captain with more than 20 years of distinguished service?"
Yeah, well...that ain't happening.
CT-04: For the third year in a row, CT-04 is shaping up to be one of the hottest races in the country. Republican incumbent Christopher Shays, who narrowly won reelection with 52% in both 2004 and 2006, is the last Republican Representative from New England left in Congress. After spirited challenges the last two cycles from Diane Farrell, Shays is now challenger by Democrat Jim Himes.
Himes, 41, is a former Goldman Sachs vice president and Rhodes Scholar. He has proven to be a terrific fundraiser, with over $1.1 million cash-on-hand as of last filing. By comparison, 20-year incumbent Shays has roughly $30,000 more in the bank than Himes. Himes is also an early addition to the DCCC's Red to Blue list.
Shays has a long-standing reputation as a moderate, and he's certainly proven to be a survivor in this Democratic-leaning Bridgeport-based district. The Fourth was Lieberman country in 2006, which may well have helped Shays win reelection that year. Still, Himes is a truly formidable candidate, and even after the close calls of the last two cycles, Shays may yet be in for the race of his life.
CT-05: By PVI, the Fifth is Connecticut's least Democratic district (D+3.7). Republican Nancy Johnson represented the area for 24 years until 2006, when she was defeated by Democrat Chris Murphy.
Murphy, 34, has had a remarkable record of political success, particularly for such a young guy. Fresh out of college at 22, he managed the campaign of Democrat Charlotte Koskoff, who ran against Johnson in 1996 and came within one point of unseating her. After graduating from law school, Murphy then defeated a 14-year incumbent to win a seat in the State House, then captured a Republican-held seat in the State Senate before defeating Johnson quite badly in 2006, winning by 12 points after a series of nasty attacks by the Johnson campaign. Since his election, Murphy has proven to be a popular Congressman and an excellent fundraiser, currently sitting on a $1.5 million war chest.
The Republicans hope to take this seat back with State Senator David Cappiello, who has been forced to run away from his unpopular president in this Dem-leaning district. Needless to say, that hasn't gone over especially well with his based (though he and Bush appear to be getting on fine, as Bush held a fundraiser for Cappiello at Henry Kissinger's house a few weeks ago).
It appears that the line of attack will be to paint Murphy as a DC insider who is soft on terrorism-indeed, it appears that that is already what they're doing. As DemFromCT notes, however, it's unlikely to work:
This is a winning strategery for McCain and Republicans... why? It's not 2002 any more. The inept Republican fear campaign played badly for Nancy Johnson in 2006 and Rudy Giuliani in 2008. Why would it work better now?
Alas, it's going to take a Democratic win in November to purge the system of the idea that Republican fear and smear still work. Chalk that up to yet another reason to vote Democratic.
The Republicans are dreaming big about CT-05, but I don't think this is the year they're going to stop Chris Murphy's meteoric rise.