Williams searching for his niche in crowded 5th CD

Mike Williams lacks the financial resources of his youngest competitor and the political experience of two others, but an open seat in the 5th Congressional District has drawn the political newcomer and foreign policy expert into a four-way race for the Democratic nomination.

“A lot of people say ‘you’ve got a snowball’s chance in hell,’ but I’m still working hard,” said Williams, 31, a visiting assistant professor of government at Wesleyan University. “If I don’t win, I don’t win, but I’ll still be here.”

Mike Williams

Democratic candidate Mike Williams

He doesn’t have the resources of 29-year-old Dan Roberti or the name recognition of House Speaker Christopher Donovan or even former Rep. Elizabeth Esty, but Williams said he’s dedicated to meeting as many people as possible on the campaign trail.

“Everyone likes to say they’re running a grassroots campaign,” he said. “Every day we’re out there doing something.”

Williams decided to run when Democratic U.S. Rep. Chris Murphy announced his bid for U.S. Senate. Murphy was a longshot when he ran, but he was a state senator who also had served in the state House.

“I think a political newcomer has a little more startup work, but I’m not afraid of work, so that’s okay,” he said.

Williams was born in New Haven and raised in Southington. He attended Holy Cross School in New Britain and he graduated from Southington High School.

After graduation from the University of Delaware, he moved to Europe, where he received his masters from Humboldt University in Berlin and a Ph.D from the London School of Economics.

His background focuses mostly on foreign policy research. He worked as head of the Transatlantic Security Program at London’s Royal United Services Institute, a defense and security think tank that advises the U.S. Department of State and NATO.

From 2008 to 2010, he worked as the lead researcher for the Carnegie Project at the think tank Research Partnership on Post-War State Building. The project dealt with researching sustainable government and security solutions for areas like Iraq, Afghanistan and the Balkans.

Williams also said a member of President Barack Obama’s Campaign Iraq Policy Expert Group contacted him for advice regarding international security policy during the 2008 presidential campaign.

“I think I have a good track record of working with people from very different backgrounds,” he said. “This office interests me because it’s both local and global. It suits my background the best.”

His early campaigning included an effort to save The Bake Shoppe, a Torrington business for 73 years that recently faced the possibility of closure after many of its wholesale buyers went out of business. Williams said he tried to organize a press event for the bakery to help keep it afloat.

John Parent, The Bake Shoppe’s owner, said he appreciated the press, but he felt that Williams’ listening skills surprised him the most.

“What really impressed me with him, and I don’t easily get impressed, is that I made eye contact with him, and we talked and he didn’t flinch,” Parent said.

Williams said he wants to meet as many people as he can and provide a louder voice for the 5th District.

“My goal is to be as loud and noisy an advocate for the 5th District as possible,” he said. “I think some people hoped Murphy would be a little louder.”

As with most candidates today, the economy tops his list of concerns. He emphasizes investing in green technologies and simplifying the tax code to create jobs.

“We’re losing out to overseas competition and we need someone who gets that,” he said.

He believes in preserving funding for areas like education, Medicare and environmental protection while reducing tax breaks for the wealthy. He also said that he values a strong military, but the U.S. can afford cuts to defense spending. On social issues, he supports abortion and gay marriage rights.

Williams is last in the fundraising race with $101,410, about $90,000 of which comes from individual donors. He also has loaned his campaign almost $11,000.

“Money does not win elections,” Williams said. “If it did, we’d have Senator McMahon and not Senator Blumenthal.”

Richard Blumenthal did win, despite being outspent by Linda McMahon, $50 million to $8.7 million. But Blumenthal entered the race after 20 years as attorney general, with some of the highest name-recognition and job-approval numbers ever seen in Connecticut politics.