Republicans hope to take back Congressional seats

Buoyed by anti-incumbent and anti-Washington sentiment, Connecticut Republicans are hoping to regain some lost ground in the state’s Congressional districts.

“People are angry and distressed by our representatives’ actions,” said Chris Healy, chairman of the Connecticut Republican Party. He cites dissatisfaction with health care reform, the 9 percent unemployment rate and the “insane” federal spending.

Republican candidates are lining up to challenge those Democrats Healy says are vulnerable without a popular presidential candidate at the top of the ticket. Specifically, the Republican party is targeting U.S. Rep. Jim Himes, who two years ago became the first Democrat to represent Connecticut’s 4th District since 1969. Healy also hopes to also take back the longtime Republican-held 5th District seat won by U.S. Rep. Chris Murphy in 2006.

“People hate Washington, D.C. They resent those who are sent there and become just another rubber stamp,” said state Sen. Dan Debicella, R-Shelton, who announced Monday he has the support of two-thirds of the 4th District Republican convention delegates.

List of GOP candidates

Nationwide, Democrats have been on a winning streak in the past two elections, winning more that 50 seats and taking control of the U.S. House of Representatives. But this election national Democratic strategists and pollsters are sending warning signs that voters are not happy with the Democratic-majority in Washington.

A recent ABC News-Washington Post poll reports the anti-incumbent mood is the strongest since 1994, when Republicans took control of the U.S. House and Senate. A recent USA Today-Gallup Poll echoes the warning.

Statewide, Quinnipiac University Polling Institute reports almost one-third of Connecticut residents don’t trust Washington politicians.

But the warning signs don’t worry Nancy DiNardo, chairwoman of the Connecticut Democratic Party.

“Thankfully we are seeing a shift from this anti-incumbent environment in the recent weeks,” she said. “I am 100 percent confident they will all be re-elected.”

Healy and DiNardo agree incumbency usually guarantees re-election, but Healy said the current delegation comes with too poor a voting record to be re-elected — including voting in favor of the $700 billion bank bailout, the $787 billion stimulus package and the national health care reform law.

“Eventually someone has to pay for these policies. This spending has done nothing but continue the recession,” Healy said. “It won’t be an automatic layup for our candidates because of these bad voting records. If we just show up for the elections it’s not an automatic win.”

Murphy defended his vote on the $787 stimulus Tuesday, saying during recessions the federal government should increase spending and then rein back spending when the economy rebounds.

“It makes sense for the federal government to fill in those gaps,” he said. “Without the stimulus we would have seen massive layoffs.”

Republican delegates from all five Congressional districts will nominate their candidates Friday. Candidates who receive less than a majority but more than 15 percent of delegate votes can force an Aug. 10 primary.

But Republicans are hoping it doesn’t come to that.

“Primaries do have detrimental effects. We want to focus time on the incumbents, not each other,” Healy said.

The state Democratic Party last week voted to back all five of their Congressmen for re-election. The five start with a fund-raising advantage over their prospective Republican rivals.

“They have a two-year head start to begin raising money,” Healy said.

Himes has raised $2.1 million compared to Debicella’s $518,00 and Republican Thomas Herrmann’s $571,000. Murphy has raised $1.6 million compared to Republican Mark Daniel Greenberg’s $812,000 and state Sen. Sam Caligiuri‘s $687,000.

But Caligiuri said once a candidate is selected at Friday’s convention, the Republican’s coffers will swell.

“I am not really concerned. We’re always outspent by incumbents,” he said. “Once our party settles on a nominee it will be easier.”

The national Congressional committees of both parties also are expected to put money into the 4th and 5th district races.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has labeled Himes campaign as a “frontline” race and the National Republican Congressional Committee has announced its intention to hone in on winning back both Himes and Murphy’s seats.

The incumbents may have another advantage, since their national committee is well-stocked with $26 million to spend compared to Republican’s $10 million. In the last election cycle, DCCC outspent the NRCC $176 million to $118 million, reports the campaign finance clearinghouse Open Secrets. Democrats picked up more than 20 seats in the House that election.

“I think money certainly helps get them re-elected. All our candidates have a substantial amount of money to run their campaigns,” said DiNardo.

But Healy said more money spent doesn’t always mean a guaranteed victory on Election Day.

“There’s a lot of things at stake this election, and I think people know that,” he said. “The problem is they have nothing left to sell to the American people based on their voting record.”