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OP-ED | Safe Congressional Seats for Democrats, Bad News for Democracy

by | May 16, 2014 8:44am () Comments | Commenting has expired | Share
Posted to: Election 2014, Opinion

On Wednesday, Democrat U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney was nominated at the second district convention in Enfield for a fifth term. Republicans will soon nominate a challenger. Who? It doesn’t really matter — they have no chance against Courtney. That’s a big, ongoing problem for Republicans, and for our democracy.

We’re used to at least a couple of safe seats for Democrats here — the first and the third districts are solid locks for U.S. Reps. John Larson and Rosa DeLauro. But when did all five seats become safe? How did some of the most competitive House seats in the nation a decade ago turn into dull-as-dishwater strolls for Democratic incumbents?

Republicans are likely to protest that the fifth and fourth districts have the potential to be competitive, but this is not true. They’re safe. The reasons why have less to do with the appeal of Democrats, and more to do with the fading relevance of the Republican Party in both this state and in New England generally.

Let’s examine things district by district:

Second district

This is where the change between 2004 and 2014 is most stark. In 2004 Republican Rob Simmons fended off yet another tough challenge from a well-funded Democrat; in this case, Norwich city councilman Jim Sullivan. Simmons won all but 10 of the 64 towns in the district, losing only Norwich, New London, two of the more liberal lower Connecticut River towns, and a group of towns centered on the University of Connecticut. But by 2006 Simmons was gone following a razor-thin loss to former state Rep. Joe Courtney, a Democrat from Vernon, and the district hasn’t seen a close race since.

Courtney carried every town in 2008 and 2012. The only year he didn’t was 2010, a Republican wave year. His outreach efforts are commendable, but Republicans in general are losing ground here; Obama won the mostly rural district by over 40,000 in 2012. This is why Courtney’s opponents are nonentities. Given how little money they’re raising, few people are interested.

Fourth district

Rep. Jim Himes, D-4th District, is also the beneficiary of shifting party allegiances and the ebb of national Republicans. In 2010, when Himes was a relatively vulnerable freshman running for re-election during a Republican wave year, he managed to win what was once one of the safest GOP districts in the region by 6 points. In 2012 once staunchly Republican towns like Fairfield, Weston, Westport, and even Greenwich voted for the Democrat. Himes is the kind of business-focused moderate the district can get behind, and in a money-focused district he has far out-fundraised his opponents.

Even more good news for Himes: He may end up facing the same opponent he defeated in the Republican wave of 2010, former state Sen. Dan Debicella, R-Shelton. Very few people truly believe there’s an upset brewing here.

Fifth District

This seems like the juiciest, lowest-hanging fruit for Republicans. Moderate, well-liked Republican Andrew Roraback lost the district to Elizabeth Esty by only about 8,000 votes in an open seat race in 2012, despite Obama carrying the district by more than 25,000 votes.

On the face of it, 2014 is a perfect opportunity for Republicans to take this seat back. Esty, who doesn’t play well with the Democratic base, is still not a particularly strong candidate. It’s likely that whoever Republicans nominate for governor will do well in the northwest corner of the state, and turnout for Democrats won’t be as strong as it was in 2012.

But Republicans seem set on nominating Mark Greenberg to run against Esty this year. His honesty and willingness to stand up to John Rowland is commendable, but he also is an unabashed social conservative. It’s difficult to believe that any Connecticut district will elect someone who says he “can’t sympathize with homosexuality” and is stringently pro-life.

This is not an aberration. Roraback was one of the last of a dying breed of moderate Republicans —people like Rob Simmons, Nancy Johnson, M. Jodi Rell, and Chris Shays — who could actually compete strongly in major races. There are precious few like him out there now.


The national GOP has less and less to offer places like Westport, Waterford, and Waterbury, where social tolerance mixes with pragmatic business sense. State Republicans have known that they have a national party problem for over a decade, but have done nothing about it.

So all three seats are likely safe for Democrats. This is great news for them, but not such great news for democracy. Republicans desperately need a renaissance of ideas and people in this state, both to be competitive and to make our democracy strong again.

Susan Bigelow is an award-winning columnist and the founder of CTLocalPolitics. She lives in Enfield with her wife and their cats.

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(9) Archived Comments

posted by: CTedFromTheTrenches | May 16, 2014  1:07pm

CT needs to lift the current protocols that make the two party system a total fix. There must be a viable third party, or things will never change for the better.

posted by: ctguy | May 16, 2014  4:54pm

Wow so this is a problem for democracy? A never-ending love affair with self funding by the Republican leadership coupled with an amazingly unpopular national image is what it looks like from this porch.

posted by: shinningstars122 | May 16, 2014  7:42pm


Susan are we supposed to be shedding tears for the CT Republican party?

Their national platform is all about the culture wars to the tenth power and being an obstructionists is required resume skill these days.

If you want to be concerned about our democracy I am sorry but the GOP is not the solution.

I agree we need people who are not bound to either party.

I sure many will remember when you had the state’s GOP conservatives, led by Rowland, attack Andrew Roraback.

He might have been the first Republican I ever voted for in my life…but giving the GOP even one more seats in Congress was not an option and as we now realize Esty is well…Esty.

Clearly Foley is leaning toward the teaparty/CCDL/oathkeepers thinking that will push him over the finish line but I have a feeling it will backfire on him.

We’ll see what he says after the convention because he is such a hallow candidate and completely uninspired… another Jodi Rell.

The last thing Connecticut needs.

posted by: StillRevolting | May 16, 2014  9:01pm

Where are my socially liberal fiscally conservative candidates of either party? Oh yeah, driven underground by the louder, less moderate losers that have commandeered the platforms of both parties. Progressives would be helped by knowing that legislation should be more than a means by which to feel good about themselves and that endlessly growing government will leave us all worse off regardless of their best intentions. The Tea Party should probably understand that legislation related to many of the things they would like to legislate would be better received in Iran. Yet, these are the people who will be holding the microphones and therefore the offices until reasonable moderates stand up and make themselves heard. It is sad that a moderate smackdown of the fringes is pretty unlikely given the nature of moderates.

posted by: One and Done | May 18, 2014  8:03am

The hangover of the Iraq war is over and the new one from Democrat fiscal insanity is just starting.  CT4 and CT5 will go Red this time.  The war is over and the country needs to go back to work and what is there right now is not working.

posted by: DirtyJobsGUy | May 22, 2014  10:44am

Gerrymandering is a New England invention after all, why is this surprising.  CT has some of the highest levels of poverty and government dependency in our cities, so allocating bits to each district helps the party of welfare.  We’ve driven manufacturing and non-financial businesses out of the state.  Finance has to go to the party of government for protection.  Dems love to call out “social conservatives” as the republicans problem but never see radical progressives as the democrat’s.  Tom foley almost was governor if not for the loyal urban machines.  This is why the governor and others take no serious action to help the local economy.  Working people leave the state, so fewer republicans can challenge the new on-party state.  How brutally cynical.

posted by: GBear423 | May 22, 2014  11:52am


Still Revolting, you clearly have no idea what the Tea Party is about, nor Iran. 
Iran is a Theocracy/Islamic Republic. Their fiscal policy is of no interest to the Tea Party, in fact I am sure most members would like to see Iran collapse, be it to economic ruin or well placed ordinance.

The Tea Party is a political movement known for advocating a reduction in the U.S. national debt and federal budget deficit by reducing U.S. government spending and taxes. This philosophy transfers over to State policies, which some CT Republicans embrace or oppose.

If following the intent of the Constitution is extreme, perhaps you are more in line with Iranian policy?

posted by: SocialButterfly | May 22, 2014  5:26pm

Our lost-vision careless voters are selling out our state and country—big time! Obama and Malloy “red ink Democratic prosperity prevails”—which has virtually done in our dollar and destroying retirement for retirees. Shame on us for continually returning our “dead-wood elected politicians to office—to effectively bury this country.”

posted by: SocialButterfly | May 22, 2014  7:42pm

Susan:  Thank you for your factual and intelligent observations of the political scene. Keep up your good work.  You tell the truth—without going overboard.

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