Connecticut needs two vibrant political parties

Twenty years ago, on Oct. 1, 2000, I wrote a column in this newspaper “congratulating” four of Connecticut’s six members of the U.S. House of Representatives on their “splendid victories” a month before they were actually reelected.

The column’s purpose was to bemoan the fact that the four recipients of my insincere congratulations occupied safe congressional seats. Gerrymandering had conveniently provided two safe districts for each party — the 1st and 3rd for the Democrats and the 4th and 6th for the Republicans, with the 2nd and 5th tossups. Safe seat occupants never lost.

But compared to today, those were the good old days for the two-party system in Connecticut. Population lost in the 2000 Census would cost the state a congressional seat and the merger of the Republican 6th with the tossup 5th would create a Democratic 5th. The Republican 4th would then turn into the Democratic 4th after the 2008 defeat of Chris Shays, the last state Republican in Congress.

This time around, I could have congratulated the five Democratic incumbents on their splendid victories right after their splendid victories in 2018, knowing that one Donald J. Trump would be heading the ticket in 2020. 

The Cook Political Report and four of the nation’s other leading election handicappers agree, pronouncing all five Connecticut congressional elections “Safe Democrat” with two slight exceptions. Politico and Sabato’s Crystal Ball called the 2nd District race a tad less certain, “Likely Democratic.”

But they made those calls on the race between incumbent Joe Courtney and the Republican Party-endorsed candidate Thomas Gilmer before Gilmer was charged with assaulting and strangling a girl friend in 2017, making him easily the best known of the five Republican challengers for all the wrong reasons. 

The next best known has to be Gilmer’s challenger, John Anderson, the retired prison guard who circulated a video of his opponent’s assault and won the nomination in a recount. All of this has obviously not enhanced the GOP’s chances.

The best known Republican candidate not involved in the scandalous doings in the 2nd District is Rep. Jahana Hayes’ challenger in the 5th, former Assistant U.S. Attorney Daniel X. Sullivan. He also happens to be the best qualified of the five Republicans and one of the better financed. But his $234,000 will not go far against Hayes’ $1,312,000. (All of the campaign finance figures cited here come from the watchdog Center for Responsive Politics.)

Surprisingly, the Republican with the most money is Margaret Streicker, a successful real estate developer, who has the unenviable task of beating Rosa DeLauro. Streicker has $648,000 to DeLauro’s $1,054,000. DeLauro has represented the New Haven area since 1991.

The bankrolls of the other Republicans range from laughable to pathetic. West Hartford Councilwoman Mary Fey, challenging 10-term Rep. John Larson, has raised $6,195 to Larson’s, $999,000, much of it, as usual, coming from the state’s leading corporations. 

The 2nd District’s surviving Republican, Justin Anderson, has $57,000 to Democrat Courtney’s $681,000. In the 4th, Republican Jonathan Riddle, a financial analyst, has only $14,900 to contest Jim Himes on the Gold Coast. Himes has raised $1,300,000.

The Gilmer scandal and the party’s failure to respond to the accusations before the primary have led to calls for the resignation of Chairman J.R. Romano, who has led the party since 2015. In those five years, he has seen the Democrats sweep the congressional districts twice. 

He also chaired the party’s 2018 gubernatorial election in which the Democrats were able to stay in power after the two terms of Dannel Malloy, whose main achievement was an approval rating that made him the most unpopular governor in the nation. 

But Ned Lamont managed to win a close contest with another previously unknown millionaire candidate named Bob Stefanowski, who couldn’t make enough voters believe he could really eliminate the state’s corporate and income taxes.

The party under Romano and his predecessors are partial to unknowns who can finance their own losing elections like Tom Foley, who was given two chances against Malloy. Then there was Linda McMahon, the wrestling magnate who spent $50 million of her own money losing a Senate seat to Dick Blumenthal by 11 points and the same amount losing to Chris Murphy by 12 points two years later.

Things just haven’t been the same for the Republican Party since the days when it ran talented, experienced candidates known as Eisenhower or moderate Republicans. Maybe some talented, experienced Republicans should take notice before it’s too late.

 

Simsbury resident Dick Ahles is a retired journalist. Email him at rahles1@outlook.com.

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