I t is certainly an exciting time to examine Connecticut politics.
By the end of 2012 the state will be, politically, unrecognizable from even a few years earlier. This process began in 2006, with the defeat of Senator Joseph Lieberman in the Democratic primary (he later won the general election as an Independent), and the loss of Republican members of Congress Rob Simmons and Nancy Johnson.
The GOP’s decline continued in 2008, when, on the heals of President Obama’s landslide win in the nutmeg state, Chris Shays — a “political Houdini” and the last Republican representative in New England (at the time) — was defeated. This, coupled with Dan Malloy’s gubernatorial victory and then-Attorney General Richard Blumenthal’s convincing Senate win in 2010 (despite the national Republican wave), has turned Connecticut decidedly blue.
Moderate and liberal Republicans once thrived in Connecticut. Senators Prescott Bush (the grandfather of President George W. Bush) and Lowell Weicker, Jr, and Congressman Christopher Shays are just a few notable members in a long tradition of moderate Nutmeg state Republicans. The state is heavily Democratic today, however, with every statewide elected office now occupied by a Democrat. Indeed, as of late 2009, Democrats accounted for nearly 37 percent of registered Connecticut voters, compared to just 20 percent for the Republicans.
Regardless, Connecticut politics have not seen this much movement in the last several decades. By the end of 2012, Connecticut will have lost Chris Dodd, the only five-term Senator in the state’s history, as well as Sen. Joe Lieberman, a four-term political chameleon. Furthermore, the Republicans’ 16-year monopoly on the Governor’s mansion ended in 2010, and Hartford Democrats (who have controlled both chambers of the General Assembly since 1997) are eager to pass several items on their political bucket list.
2012 will indeed be another volatile year for Connecticut politics. The most visible (and hotly contested) race that year will be for Lieberman’s Senate seat. Lieberman, who is widely unpopular and would not have been favored to win reelection, decided against a run earlier this year. The field to replace him is already wide and diverse. The favored candidate (for the time being) is Chris Murphy, a Democratic Congressman who represents the 5th Congressional district — the most moderate in the state.
Other Democratic candidates include former CT Secretary of State Susan Bysiewicz, State Rep. William Tong and perennial candidate Lee Whitnum. Reliable public polling indicates that Murphy currently enjoys a lead among likely primary voters (he was up by 10 points, according to a mid-September Quinnipiac University poll). Bysiewicz, his closest competitor, has faced significant controversy during her past runs for Governor, Attorney General and Connecticut Supreme Court. Nonetheless, any number of factors could tilt in the scales in Bysiewicz’s or Tong’s favor (especially since Murphy is the only candidate tainted by “Washington” politics).
The Republican primary, on the other hand, will likely be equally, if not more, contentious. The field’s two frontrunners include Christopher Shays, the former 10-term Congressman, and Linda McMahon, a former CEO of World Wrestling Entertainment and failed 2010 Senate candidate. (Other Republican candidates include Vernon Mayor Jason McCoy and attorney Brian Hill.) The race will be a battle between moderate (Shays) and conservative (McMahon) factions of the state Republican Party.
Polling indicates that McMahon, a tea party favorite who spent $50 million of her own money in the 2010 race, holds an early lead over Shays (50 percent to 35 percent). Nevertheless, Shays is a longtime Connecticut political player and will be difficult to dispose of. Moreover, his moderate positions on abortion and gun control are likely more palatable to the state’s left-leaning general election voters.
The national Republican Party has yet to endorse a candidate and is torn, according to Politico’s David Catanese. “McMahon, in essence, is a freebie for the National Republican Senatorial Committee and may even force national Democrats to write a few checks. Shays, on the other hand, would likely be attempting to tap party resources if he was [sic] able to make the general election competitive,” Catanese wrote.
Recent polls have shown Murphy and Bysiewicz with wide leads over McMahon, but locked in an intriguingly close race against Shays. According to Quinnipiac, “Murphy tops McMahon 49 percent to 38 percent; Bysiewicz beats McMahon 46 percent to 38 percent; Murphy beats Shays 43 percent to 37 percent; Shays gets 42 percent to Bysiewicz’s 40 percent.” Public Policy Polling (PPP), a Democratic-affiliated yet reliable polling firm, came out with a broader poll on September 27. According to PPP, “Murphy leads Shays by a 43-39 margin; tops last year’s GOP nominee Linda McMahon, 50-43; and beats former Rep. Rob Simmons, 45-36. Former Secretary of State Susan Bysiewicz leads McMahon only 47-46, and trails Simmons, 42-41, and Shays, 48-37. State Rep. William Tong trails Simmons and McMahon by seven points and Shays by 19.”
“Chris Shays could make this a pretty close race,” noted PPP President Dean Debnam in a press release. “His problem is that Democrats like him more than Republicans. That’s not a good formula for surviving a GOP primary with Linda McMahon.”
Moreover, Bysiewicz’s and McMahon’s presence on the ballot is notable. According to Quinnipiac University Poll Director Douglas Schwartz, “While Connecticut has never had a woman United States Senator, there are two formidable women in the running as 2012 promises to be an interesting year on the statewide political scene.”
The Senate race is not the only potentially close political contest of 2012, however. While Connecticut’s voters are more liberal than their national counterparts, they seemed to have soured on President Obama in recent months. According to PPP, “Connecticut isn’t a place that would go on anybody’s list of swing states but Barack Obama is in a statistical tie with Mitt Romney there, leading only 47-45. Obama’s poor showing in Connecticut is mostly a function of his own unpopularity. Despite having won it by 23 points in 2008 his approval numbers are now under water at 48/49.” Nonetheless, “The competitiveness in Connecticut is limited to Romney. Against the rest of the Republican field Obama leads by double digits- it’s 12 points against Rick Perry at 53-41, 13 against Ron Paul at 51-38, 16 against Newt Gingrich at 54-38, and 19 against Michele Bachmann at 55-36.”
The smart political money is undoubtedly on the President to win the Nutmeg state once again in 2012, but if the Republicans nominate Romney (who currently leads in the CT Republican primary), it may end up being a nail-biter.
The next time voters head to the polls, it will be in November for local elections. (In late February, some CT residents will vote to replace the six state legislators Gov. Malloy appointed to various posts in his administration.) This, however, is just the start of what promises to be an exciting time to be following Connecticut politics.