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Congressmen financially unopposed

Seventeen years ago, this column offered congratulations to four of Connecticut’s six members of Congress for their “splendid victories” months before Election Day. This was possible because the four were financially unopposed by relative unknowns, and their reelection was certain. 

There are now only five congressmen from Connecticut, but they’re all Democrats, and it’s possible to congratulate all five more than a year ahead of time.In 2000, two of the financially unopposed four were Democrats and two were Republicans. The other two Democrats, Sam Gejdensen and Jim Maloney, had real opponents with real money, and their races were too close to call. 

The incumbent Democrats in 2000, John Larson and Rosa DeLauro, are still in office, serving in districts where Abraham Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan wouldn’t admit they were Republicans. The Republicans, Nancy Johnson and Chris Shays, were moderates in relatively safe GOP enclaves.

Larson’s 1st  District last elected a Republican to the House in 1956 in Eisenhower’s second-term landslide and has had Democratic congressmen in 80 of the last 86 years. DeLauro’s 3rd District has, in six decades, elected one Republican to one term — Lawrence DeNardis in 1980. 

Back in 2000, not offering premature congratulations to Gejdensen in the eastern-Connecticut 2nd District proved to be correct. He lost in a squeaker to Republican Rob Simmons, who enjoyed a distinguished career until he lost to the current Democratic incumbent, Jim Himes, by 17 votes six years later. Maloney easily defeated challenger Mark Nielsen in the 5th, but it would be Maloney’s final term, thanks to the 2000 Census.

By the next election, Johnson and Maloney would be forced to compete in the newly constructed 5th District after Johnson’s 6th suffered extinction. Johnson won and would become the new district’s first and last Republican, ending her long career in 2006 in a loss to Chris Murphy.

Since then, it’s been all Democrats, all the time in Connecticut’s House districts and probably still will be next year, even though the Republicans have a very real opportunity to elect a governor and, if the state’s financial deterioration continues, maybe even a majority or two in the General Assembly. 

The five Democrats can be congratulated now on their victories in November 2018 because the Republican Party will fail to put up strong, or even known, candidates in opposition. And the party and its donors will not support its nominees with the financial wherewithal to compete. 

As Al Smith liked to say, “Let’s look at the record.” The nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics, which keeps a careful watch on money in politics, has all five already raising lots of money for their 2018 campaigns.

Larson and DeLauro, the safest of the safe, have each raised more than $300,000 and have no announced opponents. Courtney, in the 2nd, has more than $200,000 to run against a challenger named Clay Slawson, who is employed by a freight company and says he will revamp the Connecticut economy using conservative principles. He has not yet issued a fundraising report.

Himes, in the formerly Republican 4th, had $539,000 in his treasury on June 30 and no opponent, and Esty in the 5th, also without opposition, leads the pack with $611,000.

History indicates the incumbents will more than double the amounts raised by the time the Republican Party completes the process of uncovering sacrificial lambs, preferably equipped with their own money, months from now.

Remember Matthew Corey, Daria Novak, Angel Cadena, John Shaban and Clay Cope? They were the five unsuccessful Republican candidates for the U.S. House in 2016. Three of them raised enough money to get noticed by the Federal Elections Commission: Novak, $50,000; Shaban, $151,00 and Cope, $103,000. Their opponents, Courtney, Himes and Esty, won by 24, 20 and 17 percentage points respectively, while Larson and DeLauro were winners by 30 and 28 points. The five incumbents reported contributions of between $1.1 and $2.2 million.

Then there’s that other race next year, for the U.S. Senate. In recent years, the main similarity between the races for the House and Senate has been the outcome, all Democrats, all the time. 

The Republican Party has sent only one Republican to the Senate since Prescott Bush’s election in 1956. That was Lowell Weicker, best remembered as Richard Nixon’s Republican nemesis on the Watergate committee and as the former Republican who, as a third-party governor, introduced the income tax to the state.

But unlike the Republican House candidates, many of the unsuccessful Republican failures in Senate races have not been financially disadvantaged — far from it. 

The poster girl for blowing money in futile election efforts is Linda McMahon, who spent $100 million of her own and husband Vince’s wrestling fortune in losing to Democrat Richard Blumenthal by 12 points in 2010 and Chris Murphy by 12 points in 2012. Since then, Blumenthal was reelected by 28 points over state legislator Dan Carter in 2016, and Murphy will be running again next year. He has $5 million on hand at the moment and one opponent so far, a Branford businessman named Dominic Rapini, who has raised $26,000. 

It would appear that it’s safe to congratulate Murphy too. 

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