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Election 2012 - CT Races to Watch

September 20, 2012

Election season is upon us. On November 6th voters will head to the polls to cast their ballots for the Office of President, U.S. Senate, House of Representatives, State Senator and State Representative. In the weeks leading up to election day you can expect to be inundated with mail, television ads and phone calls describing the virtues of one candidate and the failings of the opponent.

Here is a look at races of importance to Connecticut.

President
Connecticut remains a solid blue state. The last Republican presidential candidate to carry Connecticut was George Bush Sr. in 1988. In 2008, then Senator Barack Obama defeated Senator John McCain by a whopping 23 percentage points. This year’s race appears to be much closer. Recent polls conducted by the Rassmussen Group and the Quinnipiac Polling Institute show President Obama with an 8 point lead over Republican candidate Mitt Romney. This race will no doubt be closer than 2008, but look for the President to pick up Connecticut’s seven electoral votes.

Nationwide, political pundits see this as a very tight race which will hinge on results in the battleground states of Ohio, Florida, Virginia, North Carolina, Wisconsin, Iowa, Colorado and New Hampshire.  As of this writing in late September, President Obama has 247 electoral votes in his pocket with Mr. Romney at 191. Ohio and Florida are “must win” states for Romney. No Republican has ever been elected President without winning Ohio. It’s also hard to conceive of a scenario which has Romney losing Florida and winning the election. Should Romney win both Ohio and Florida, he would still need 32 electoral votes from the states mentioned above to claim the presidency. Should the President win the 18 electoral votes in Ohio or the 29 electoral votes in Florida he would be well on his way to reelection. Polling in these battleground states has been volatile giving the impression that they are toss-ups.

 

U.S. Senate
Get ready for a barn burner here. Linda McMahon, who lost the 2010 senate race to Richard Blumenthal by a twelve point margin, is once again the Republican candidate having defeated former Congressman Christopher Shays in the Republican primary in August. She has worked hard to redefine herself to appeal to women and independent voters, two groups where she badly under-performed two years ago. To date she has spent $14M and appears to be on track to spend whatever is necessary to get her message out.

Congressman Chris Murphy, who easily outlasted former Secretary of State Susan Bysiewicz in the Democratic primary, will attempt to take his 5th Congressional District popularity statewide. Murphy is a young, aggressive, thoughtful candidate. He is a relentless campaigner and fundraiser who should carry the Democratic mantle well. However, his campaign has become mired in reports of his failure to attend subcommittee meetings on financial issues during the financial crisis and missed rental and mortgage payments. Mrs. McMahon has used her significant financial advantage to attempt to define Murphy before he has the ability to define himself. Congressman Murphy has countered that Linda McMahon is a wealthy woman looking to buy this election with little regard for the middle class.   Recent polls show McMahon and Murphy in a dead heat. Washington pundits have moved this from “lean Democrat” to “toss up.” Expect this one to go down to the wire with voter turnout the deciding factor.
 

U.S. House of Representatives
Most state residents will see very one-sided races for Congress. Expect Democrat incumbents to win easily in districts 1-4.

District 1 – John Larson will be returned to serve his eighth term in Congress. He is being challenged by Republican John Decker who will struggle to compete for funding and name ID in this heavily Democratic district.

District 2 – Eastern Connecticut will once again return Congressman Joe Courtney (D) to Washington for his fourth term. This very popular, former state legislator is running against Paul Formica who has served as the First Selectman of East Lyme since 2007.

District 3 – Look for long serving Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro to continue to represent the Greater New Haven area. This is another Democratic stronghold where Republican Wayne Winsley will struggle to get his message out.

District 4 – Congressman Jim Himes (D), who defeated long standing incumbent Christopher Shays four years ago, is the clear favorite to win this Fairfield County seat. He is being challenged by Stephen Obsitnik, a Naval Academy graduate and former Naval officer.

District 5 – The 5th Congressional District, which stretches from the Farmington Valley down through New Britain and Waterbury and west to Danbury and the Northwest Hills will feature one of the most contested races in the northeast.

Chris Donovan, the current Speaker of the House, was the odds on favorite to win the Democratic primary and move on to November. However, his campaign was derailed by an FBI sting which resulted in the arrests of two high level campaign operatives and six others in a scheme to trade campaign contributions for the Speaker’s commitment to defeat a bill aimed at taxing “Roll Your Own” smoke shops. Although there was no evidence that Donovan knew of the plot, the cloud surrounding his campaign was enough to deal his candidacy a death blow.

Elizabeth Esty, the Democratic nominee and wife of Department of Energy and Environmental Protection Commissioner Dan Esty, is a very bright, articulate candidate with a nationwide network of supporters including EMILY’s list, a group that raises money for pro-choice, female candidates. Mrs. Esty ran a very focused primary campaign and now has the opportunity to take her message of moderate policies and reaching across the aisle to get things done to voters in the most conservative district in the state.

The Republican candidate, Andrew Roraback, a nine- term state senator from northwest Connecticut, survived a bruising four-way primary and now sets his sights on November. While very popular in the northwest, Senator Roraback will have to garner  support in the Farmington Valley and the greater Waterbury and Danbury areas in order to be successful. He has retooled his staff and will need to rely on grassroots support in a campaign where he will likely be outspent by Mrs. Esty. Mitt Romney and Linda McMahon will run better here than anywhere else in the state which can only help the Roraback campaign.

Look for a very interesting campaign waged by two very capable candidates both of whom have the ability to appeal to moderates in both parties.

State Senate
Two long-term Democrat senators, Eileen Daily and Edith Prague announced their retirements in May. This turned two safe Democratic seats into competitive open seats.

The 19th Senatorial District is comprised of ten towns in southeast Connecticut. It has been represented by Edith Prague since 1994. Senator Prague was known as a tireless advocate for the elderly and organized labor. Her retirement leaves a vacancy that Republican Chris Coutu and Democrat Cathy Osten will compete to fill. Representative Coutu has earned a reputation as a tireless campaigner. Ms Osten, the First Selectman of Sprague, has the backing of Senator Prague and organized labor. She was defeated by Coutu in 2010 in a race for state representative.

The 33rd District, which stretches from Colchester to the east down through Middlesex County and includes the shoreline towns of Old Saybrook, Westbrook Essex and Lyme, has been ably served by Senator Daily for many years. This year’s race features one term state representative and retired teacher Jim Crawford against his former student, Art Linares, a young solar developer.

The 13th Senatorial District which includes Meriden, Middlefield and parts of Cheshire and Middletown is a Democrat leaning district currently held by Republican Len Suzio. State Senator Suzio has made a name for himself by strongly opposing the New Britain to Hartford Busway, advocating for lower gas taxes and tougher sentences for hardened criminals. His opponent, Democrat Dante Bartolomeo, is a Meriden City Councilor and community organizer. While it is difficult to unseat an incumbent, this race bears watching given the makeup of the district.

The 23rd Senatorial District, which encompasses part of Bridgeport and a sliver of Stratford will have new representation in 2013. State Representative Andre Ayala defeated incumbent Ed Gomes and former Senator Ernie Newton in a hard fought democrat primary. Expect him to easily defeat Republican Caz Mizera in this heavily democratic district.

The 30th Senatorial District is currently held by Andrew Roraback. Long serving State Representative Clark Chapin of New Milford will seek to keep this seat in the Republican column. He is opposed by Attorney William Riiska, a Lakeville resident who has been politically active for many years. Riiska faces an uphill battle for a seat held by Republicans for many years.

The current makeup of the State Senate is 22 Democrats and 14 Republicans. The results in districts 13, 19 and 33 will shape the makeup of the Senate for the next two years.

State House of Representatives
Twenty-six open seats and redistricting make this a great opportunity for Republicans to pick up seats or for Democrats to increase their 99 – 52 majority. While many of the open seats are in districts dominated by one party, there are some races that are up for grabs. Four races to watch include:

Assembly District 65 - Torrington
This race pits incumbent Michelle Cook (D) against her 2010 Republican opponent, Wendy Traub, who she defeated by about 400 votes. Traub is a former member of Torrington’s Board of Education and a current member of the city’s finance board. She has been critical of Cook’s voting record on taxes and the state budget. Ms. Cook says she will work to improve the transportation system in the Northwest Corner.

Assembly Race 81 – Southington
Former city councilor and Democratic activist David Zoni will face Cheryl Lounsbury, a sitting city councilor and former longtime Nancy Johnson staff person. This seat opened up when Labor Committee Chairman Bruce “Zeke” Zalaski decided not to seek re-election. Ms. Lounsbury touts her pro business ideology as what is necessary to get Connecticut moving in the right direction. Mr. Zoni has indicated his interest in working in a bipartisan manner to make a difference in people’s lives.

Assembly District 89 –Prospect, Cheshire, Bethany
Veteran legislator and Energy and Technology Committee co-chair Vickie Nardello (D) will face a stiff challenge from political newcomer, Lezlye Zupkus. Mrs. Zupkus says she is running for office so her two daughters can live and work in Connecticut as adults. She believes that decisions made by Democratic leadership in Hartford is leading the state down the wrong road. Ms. Nardello, a longtime consumer advocate is proud of her efforts to reduce energy costs in Connecticut. She has also been involved in healthcare reform. Look for a hard fought battle here with strong grassroots efforts and get out the vote operations.

Assembly District 119 – Milford – Orange
Longtime State Representative Richard Roy decided not to seek another term, leaving this as a very competitive open seat. Democrat Jim Maroney, the Majority Leader on the Milford Board of Education will face Republican Pam Staneski, a former member of the Milford Board of Education and Board of Aldermen. She ran once before in the 119th in 2004. Redistricting has  made this a very competitive seat.

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