18 Days to Election Day: Connecticut

Five House seats, an open Democratic Senate seat (technically, an independent), and a presidential election are on tap this year in Connecticut. As concerns the presidential vote, this was not always a Democratic state. However, the trend since Clinton’s reelection has certainly been in that direction. In 2008, Obama won with a little over 60% of the vote carrying the heavily populated Hartford and New Haven counties handily. This time around, he can expect to get somewhere in the general neighborhood of 56% of the vote- still an impressive victory. Thus, give Obama Connecticut’s 7 electoral votes.

Instead, a lot of the drama will come from the race for the open Senate seat. This is the second retirement in as many cycles for a Senator from Connecticut. A funny thing happened along the way to the perceived and supposed showdown between current congressman Chris Murphy and former congressman Chris Shays. On the Democratic side, there was no secret that Rep. Chris Murphy of the Fifth District would make a run for the Senate. However, he had to fend off a rather formidable challenger in his primary in the form of Susan Bysiewicz, the former secretary of state for Connecticut. Although Murphy eventually won the primary with 67% of the vote, his coronation was not as smooth as the Connecticut Democratic establishment would have liked.

Likewise, in the Republican primary, this was supposed to be the coronation of Chris Shays who was brought out of retirement and back to the state to run against Murphy. Instead, 2010 Republican senatorial candidate and eventual loser Linda McMahon entered the race again this year. In 2010, she lost by double digits to eventual Democratic winner Richard Blumenthal, the former state attorney general. Along the way, she made some mistakes that may have cost her. In the last campaign, she cast herself as a job creator, but this time out, she is more policy-oriented outlining a 6-point job creation program. Her biggest clashes with Murphy thus far have been over letting the Bush tax cuts expire on wealthier Americans. Ideally, at this point, one would expect Murphy to be up by a wide margin. Although he has shown some momentum of late, his overall lead is still jut slightly inside the margin of error. Simply put, a gaffe here or there could put McMahon back on top.

One thing McMahon has going for her is her personal wealth. Her war chest dwarfs that of Murphy $14 million to $5 million with most of it coming from her own coffers. Conversely, although Murphy has accepted significant PAC money, most of the money of his contributions are from donors. Generally, unless the person opts to self-fund, that spells victory for the candidate who receives a greater share of their money from donors, after a threshold amount is reached. McMahon obviously falls in that “unless” category. In 2010, she raised a whopping $50 million and still lost. Although she has stated she intends to spend less this time out and that her efforts will be more grassroots than through the mass media, one has to question whether she will win despite all the money. In fact, she is a poster child for the fact that the most monied candidate is not guaranteed a victory. Although she made Connecticut politics interesting in 2010 and is doing it again this year, a McMahon victory would surely be an upset and this writer just does not see it happening. It is a possibility, as is a surprise in New Mexico although a McMahon upset over Murphy would appear to be a more likely scenario than a Wilson victory over Heinrich at this point.

The three Democratic incumbents in the First, Second and Third Districts- John Larson, Joe Courtney, and Rosa DeLauro- are all safe as they face Republican newcomers to politics. In the 4th, Democratic incumbent Jim Himes would appear to be the most vulnerable Democratic incumbent as his margins of victory have generally been in the low 50% range. His opponent will be a pro-choice Republican in Steve Obsitnik. The 4th District covers wealthy Fairfield county as well as Connecticut’s largest and most impoverished city, Bridgeport.

In the open Fifth District due to Murphy’s run for Senate, Elizabeth Esty won the Democratic primary over the heavily favored and heavily endorsed state house speaker, Chris Donovan. Donovan had become embroiled in a campaign finance scandal that led to felony charges against two people in his campaign. Esty spent one term in the state house and built up a reputation as a moderate Democrat. At one point she drew the ire of the Connecticut Democratic establishment by siding with an alternative state budget that would have cut spending and not raised taxes on wealthier residents. That was in opposition to Governor Malloy’s proposed $2.6 billion tax increase. She will face Connecticut state senator Andrew Roraback, considered a moderate Republican who won a crowded primary. Roraback opposes the death penalty and has worked to abolish it in the state. On most social issues, he is at least moderate. However, on fiscal issues, he is quite conservative and has repeatedly voted against tax increases. In his position on a commission that oversees bond issuance, he had repeatedly voted against the state taking on additional debt. Although Esty has certainly raised more at this point, Roraback’s contributions all come from private donors- there is no PAC money involved. If there is a realistic chance for a Republican upset, it would be here in the Fifth District, although the chances of that are somewhat slim.

In conclusion: Obama takes the state’s 7 electoral votes while Murphy defeats McMahon for Lieberman’s Senate seat. The congressional delegation is 5-0 Democratic and should remain so after this election.

Running totals thus far: Obama leads in the electoral vote count 181-159 while Republicans lead in the Senate 34-32 and in the House 140-131.

Next: Maine