Wednesday, November 01, 2006

As Connecticut Goes, So Goes the Nation

Need any more evidence of the importance of the congressional races in Connecticut? Here's Chris Cillizza's thoughts from The Fix. Get out there and volunteer for Chris Murphy!
Connecticut May Be a Barometer on Election Night

For the last year strategists in both parties have debated which of the three House races in Connecticut represents Democrats' best chance of a takeover on Nov. 7.

By the numbers, it's the eastern Connecticut 2nd District which Rep. Rob Simmons (R) has held since 2000, despite the fact that it was carried by Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry (D) with 54 percent in 2004. By the level of attention from national Democrats its the 4th District where Rep. Chris Shays (R) is trying to fend off 2004 nominee Dianne Farrell (D).

But, by the polling (and the motto of The Fix could well be "In polling we trust"), it is Rep. Nancy Johnson (R) in the northwestern Connecticut 5th District who appears to be in the most dire of straits.

A new poll commissioned by the Hartford Courant and released today shows state Sen. Chris Murphy (D) ahead of Johnson 46 percent to 42 percent. (Recent surveys conducted for the Courant showed Simmons leading 2002 nominee Joe Courtney 46 percent to 44 percent and Shays and Farrrell tied at 43 percent.)

Johnson's long tenure in Congress -- she has served in Washington since 1982 -- appears to be working against her in the eyes of voters. Forty-six percent of those tested agreed with the idea that "electing challengers is a good idea because they offer change," while just 30 percent thought "electing incumbents is a good idea because they offer experience." Twenty-two percent were undecided on that question.

The incumbent is also struggling to shed the baggage of President George W. Bush's dismal approval numbers in the state. Thirty-five percent of 5th District voters approved of Bush's job performance, while 61 percent disapproved. As we've seen time and again in national and district-level surveys, just 19 percent "approved" of the job Bush was doing while 49 percent "strongly disapproved" -- suggesting an imbalance in energy between the two party bases. Johnson's approve/disapprove is healthier (45 approve/42 disapprove), but 77 percent of those tested said she "follows the Republican party line set by President Bush" either "very closely" (34 percent) or "somewhat closely" (47 percent).

All of those internal measures spell trouble for Johnson. And remember that the Courant poll comes after Johnson has already spent more than $4 million on her re-election campaign, according to reports filed with the Federal Election Commission earlier this month. At that time, Murphy had spent roughly half of Johnson's total.

If the political environment is as bad in Connecticut as it appears nationally for Republicans, it may not matter how much Johnson spends. What once looked like Johnson's trump card -- her long experience in Congress and the campaign cash that it can produce -- now is working against her. And Murphy's biggest weakness -- he is 32 and looks 22 -- may actually be accruing to his benefit.

Republican strategists privately acknowledge that Johnson is in a dog fight and are clearly worried about her chances. If you're looking for a way to grade how large (or small) Democratic gains will be on election day, Connecticut is a very good place to look. Win zero or one seat and Democrats may come up short of the 15 seats they need nationally to take control. Win two and the majority looks likely. Win all three and a gain of 25 seats or more is possible.


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