Races may not be hot, but candidates campaigning to the end

Washington – Republican Wayne Winsley plans to attend a debate Thursday evening, but he’ll be taking questions from the audience by himself because his Democratic rival doesn’t think it’s worth the time to show up.

Winsley is running against Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-3rd District, in one of those quixotic congressional campaigns run every two years by underfunded candidates in districts that tilt heavily toward their opponent’s party. Republican John Henry Decker, running against Rep. John Larson, D-1st District, and Republican Paul Formica, who is challenging Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District, are also battling uphill.

Retirements, resignations and a restive electorate has made for a slew of competitive congressional races this year. Just look at the tight race for the 5th District seat between Republican Andrew Roraback and Democrat Elizabeth Esty.

But most congressional races, like the ones in the 1st, 2nd and 3rd districts, are not competitive because the incumbents in those seats are well-funded, have name recognition and likely the support of a majority of voters.

“‘Congressional approval ratings as a whole may be low, but if you ask the average voter what they think about their member of Congress, they’d be more likely to give you a positive answer about him or her than the whole body,” said Geoffrey Skelley, political analyst at the University of Virginia Center for Politics. “That’s because voters are more likely to think their representative is doing an OK job while the rest of Congress is screwed up.”

That assessment can pertain to DeLauro, who has won by at least 70 percent of the vote since 1996 and is likely to win re-election by a wide margin again.

So she can spend some time in the last days before Election Day on Nov. 6 helping other Democratic candidates, including Senate hopeful Rep. Chris Murphy, and declining Winsley’s invitation to another debate.

Winsley said DeLauro’s behavior is “arrogant and imperious.”

But the group hosting the proposed debate, United Seniors of America, has a conservative agenda and the debate would hardly be held on neutral ground.

In addition, DeLauro debated Winsley last Sunday on “Face the State” and appeared with him at two public forums.

So enough is enough, said DeLauro campaign manager Jimmy Tickey.

But tough race or not, incumbents usually know it’s not politically astute to become complacent and ignore any challenger.

“We’re in full campaign mode,” said Tickey. “The congresswoman takes nothing for granted.”

DeLauro has raised more than $1 million in this election cycle, spending about $650,000 fending off Winsley and giving another $325,000 to the Democratic Party and Democratic candidates with tougher races.

Meanwhile Winsley, a motivational speaker and radio personality from Beacon Falls, has raised $57,000.

Fellow GOP challenger Decker, in District 1, took a leave of absence from his job at Morgan Stanley in Hartford to challenge Larson. He has raised about $53,000, about $4,000 of that total from his own pocket.

Larson, who has served in Congress since 1999 and has climbed to a leadership position among House Democrats, has raised about $1.8 million.

Like many political neophytes who decide to run for Congress, Decker said he was persuaded by friends and neighbors to take the leap.

As a deacon of his church and a board member of many local organizations, Decker said he is well-known. ”I’m immersed in my community.”

Another motivator was concern about the national debt and how Democrats like Larson are handling the nation’s finances, Decker said.

His campaign motto is “Your Country. Your Money. Your Future.”

Unlike Winsley or Decker, Formica, the Republican running against Courtney, has some political experience. He’s a small businessman and the first selectman of East Lyme. He has raised $90,000 in his bid to unseat Courtney, who has raised about $1.4 million.

Formica said he was prompted to run because as an outsider with business savvy, he believes he can fix Congress.

“I thought those skills might benefit Washington and my perspective is something this country needs” he said.

Despite the gap in fundraising, Courtney campaign spokesman Josh Zembik said the congressman is “doing all the regular things you do in a campaign.”

Courtney is running television and radio ads, something his challenger cannot afford much of, and participating in three debates with Formica.

“When you win a race by only 83 votes, you take everything seriously,” Zembik said.

Courtney was first elected to Congress in 2006 in the closest congressional race held that year.

Thomas Mann, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institute, said that even in a “throw-the-bums-out” year like this, most members of Congress win re-election. He predicted 95 percent of them will win on Nov. 6.

Besides the Republicans running against incumbents in the 1st, 2nd and 3rd congressional districts, there are several Libertarian, Green and write-in candidates struggling to get traction in the races.

Despite the long odds, Mann said the chance to run against an incumbent for a seat in Congress is sometimes irresistible.

“It’s an opportunity for some to gain some recognition in the community, however minor,” Mann said. “Others are lone wolves motivated by ideology.”

And sometimes, but not often, a political long shot comes in.

Meanwhile, Decker continues to campaign and is proud of a video of his young daughter and her friends performing a parody of the hit song “Call me Maybe” with the refrain “Hey, I just met him and he’s amazing. So vote for Decker, for U.S. Congress.”

“My kids can’t wait to pull on their (campaign) shirts. They’re learning something,” Decker said. “So I feel I’ve already won.”