Prospect of Republican gains fills Congressional primary ballots

Perhaps encouraged by predictions of GOP gains this year, 11 Republicans are competing in Tuesday’s primary for their party’s nominations in four of Connecticut’s five Congressional districts.

Nine of them are running in three districts ranked among the most competitive in the country by the University of Minnesota’s Smart Politics blog: the 2nd, the 4th and the 5th.

The remaining two are running in the 1st District, which last elected a Republican in  the 1950s.

Most of the Republican candidates have embraced the anti-incumbent sentiments expressed by voters in polls this year.

“I’m not a politician and I’ve never been a politician,” said Ann Brickley, when announcing her candidacy for the 1st Congressional district. “I am completely dismayed by the dysfunctional process in Washington that does not represent the will of the people.”

5th District

There are three Republicans with very different backgrounds vying in the 5th District to unseat Rep. Chris Murphy, who in 2006 won the longtime Republican-held seat.

The endorsed candidate is state Sen. Sam Caligiuri of Waterbury, the son of immigrant blue-collar workers who is running on his conservative voting record, including voting against the state’s current budget.

Caligiuri drew criticism from opponent Justin Bernier last week for sending out a flyer describing himself as the party’s nominee–prematurely, Bernier said.

“We believe he’s deliberately trying to mislead voters,” said Drew Biemer, a spokesman for Bernier.

Bernier is an Afghan war veteran and former director of the state’s Office of Military Affairs.

The third candidate businessman Mark Greenberg, who has spent $1 million of his own money on his campaign.

In a recent television advertisement, Greenberg attacked Caligiuri, calling him a “job terminator,” for his approval as an alderman in Waterbury of a $10 million tax increase when the city was facing insolvency.

On the policy issues, the three Republicans have largely the same opinion; they are pro-life, are calling for the repeal of federal health reform and say the U.S. is borrowing and spending too much.

Whoever wins next week’s primary will face a well-financed opponent. Murphy had $1.4 million cash on hand at the end of June, according to his most recent report to the Federal Elections Commission.

The three Republicans filed more recent reports because of the primary. As of July 21, Bernier had $96,000, Caliguiri had $80,000 and Greenberg with $207,000. However, Greenberg said early in his campaign he is willing to spend more of his own money if he wins the primary election.

The National Republican Congressional Committee has labeled the candidates in the race as “young gun contenders”, which will likely translate to financial support for whoever wins the primary.

The fifth district – which includes Danbury, Meriden, New Britain and Waterbury – had 23 percent of voters registered as Republicans in the last election compared to 33 percent Democrat and 44 percent unaffiliated.

4th District

Republicans lost the state’s 4th District seat in the last election to Rep. Jim Himes, who is the first Democrat to hold the seat since 1969. The Fairfield County district is viewed as the best chance for Republicans to take back a seat in Connecticut.

Both the NRCC and the Democratic National Campaign Committee have highlighted this race as one to watch, and will likely pump money into it if needed to win November’s election.

There are three Republicans seeking the party’s nomination. State Sen. Dan Debicella of Shelton won the party endorsement during the May convention. Two other candidates petitioned their way into the primary: Norwalk businessman Rob Merkle and Bridgeport businessman Rick Torres.

The campaign was stirred up by the release of a YouTube video called “Reefer Rob,” Making fun of Merkle’s 2000 midemeanor drug arrest in Florida. The video was posted under a pseudonym, but Merkle accused Torres of spreading he word about the decade-old incident and said it is not relevant to his campaign.

The Democratic National Committee recently sought to link the GOP candidates to the conservative Tea Party movement, demanding that they declare whether they would join a Congressional Tea Party Caucus if elected.

If not, “they should stand up to the Tea Party Republican bosses and disavow their radical agenda,” DNC spokesman Michael Czin, told Congressional Quarterly earlier this week.

Responding in the article, Merkle said he has attended Tea Party rallies and Torres said he would be “honored” to join the caucus. However Debicella was “noncommittal” when asked if he would join.

Whoever wins the primary next week will face Himes’ hefty campaign bank account — which was tallied at $1.9 million at the end of June.

As of July 21, Debicella had $493,000 cash on hand, Merkle had $4,000 and Torres $3,000.

2nd District

None of the three Republicans vying for a chance to challenge Rep. Joe Courtney in southeastern Connecticut’s  2nd Congressional District has ever held public office.

The endorsed candidate is Daria Novak, owner of a communications company and a Tea Party member. “I am not so sure the people in Washington know what this is about,” she said holding up copy of the Constitution at a Tea Party rally video on her campaign web site.

Probably the best-known of the three is Janet Peckinpaugh, a longtime local television journalist who now runs her own consulting firm.

The third candidate is attorney Doug Dubitsky, who has worked for state Republicans and owns a small farm.

On the issues, all three want to reverse national health care reform, reduce federal spending and reduce corporate regulations to create jobs.

As in the other races, the Republicans lag the incumbent in fundraising.

As the end of June, Courtney had $1.5 million in cash on hand. By comparison, as of July 21, Novak had $19,000, Peckinpaugh had $16,000 and Dubitsky had $4,000.

1st district

Republicans Mark Zydanowicz and Ann Brickley are facing each other in the state’s 1st Congressional District for a chance to run against a six-term incumbent for a seat that hasn’t been held by the GOP in more than 50 years.

Brickley, who received the party’s endorsement in May, has criticized federal spending, calls the federal health reform another entitlement program and opposes cap and trade proposals.

Zydanowicz, a dairyman and Iraq veteran from West Hartford, wants to cut taxes and block funding of health care reform..

Whoever wins next Tuesday’s primary faces Rep. John Larson, the 4th-ranking Democratic leader in Congress, in an overwhelmingly Democratic district that covers Hartford and two dozen other communities.

As of July 21, Brickley reported having $56,000 on hand and Zydanowicz $12,000, compared with $900,000 for Larson as of June 30.