Washington – What do Connecticut and Hawaii have in common?
They are among only a handful of states that still have a Democratic governor and totally Democratic congressional delegation after a Republican tsunami washed over the nation on Election Day.
The only other true-blue states now are Delaware and Hawaii. (Vermont’s gubernatorial race is still up in the air.) Maryland, the Old Line State, could not hold the line against the Republican tide; and Massachusetts, for long considered a liberal Democratic bastion, also elected a Republican governor.
The Republican gains were mainly attributed to the nation’s dissatisfaction with the Obama administration. But what does Connecticut’s loyalty to the Democratic Party mean in a political world where Republicans have control on Capitol Hill and veto power in many statehouses?
The greatest impact of the new political reality on Connecticut is in the U.S. Senate, because the GOP takeover of that chamber means Connecticut’s senators have dropped from their position in the majority to the minority. So Sen. Richard Blumenthal will lose his chairmanship of an Armed Services air-land subcommittee and his position as the head of a Commerce subcommittee in charge of surface transportation. The latter helped the senator take on the Metro-North Railroad for its recent failings.
The flip in the Senate also means Sen. Chris Murphy will lose his position as chairman of a Senate Foreign Relations panel with oversight of European affairs.
With Republicans in charge, GOP senators will win more committee seats to become a majority in each panel and Democrats will lose them. That means there’s a danger Blumenthal or Murphy may lose a committee assignment altogether because they have not been in the Senate very long and are junior members on some panels.
Right now, for instance, it looks like Blumenthal has a tenuous hold on the Judiciary Committee. But senior Democrats may move from one committee to another, and it’s impossible to tell if the Connecticut senators will lose a committee job until the Senate reorganizes, probably in December.
”Senator Blumenthal serves on committees that are at the forefront of issues critical to the people of Connecticut, including veterans affairs, submarine production, rail safety, gun safety and consumer protections, said Blumenthal press secretary Josh Zembik. ” He has no expectation of losing any committee assignments.”
Murphy said he’d “cross that bridge when we come to it.”
Senator Murphy has always fought hard for the people of Connecticut and will continue to work across the aisle on initiatives that benefit them, regardless of which party is in the majority,” said Kaylie Hanson, Murphy’s deputy communications director. “Senator Murphy plans to keep his committee assignments and will continue to use them as a platform from which to advocate for Connecticut jobs, universal health care, anti-gun violence policies, smart national security, and affordable higher education.”
If the election has provided a silver lining for Connecticut’s senators, it’s that the loss of at least seven Democratic Senate seats gives them a boost in seniority that will benefit them if the chamber is won back by the Democratic Party in 2016 or afterward. But no longer will they be able to hold hearings on their legislation or be able to push bills forward without GOP help.
Blumenthal said he’d reach out to Republicans on common issues. But he also said the GOP’s control of the Senate does not mean party members will speak with one voice. The number of tea party senators has increased with the election of Joni Ernst of Iowa, Cory Gardner of Colorado, Thom Tillis of North Carolina and others, and they may push back against mainstream Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., who had to fend off a tea party candidate in a primary.
“The irony is the Democratic minority may be more cohesive than the Republican majority,” Blumenthal said.
In the House, Republicans also strengthened their majority Tuesday, placing Connecticut’s five House members in a smaller pool of colleagues. In this Congress, Democrats held 199 seats and lost at least a dozen and probably many more, as many races have not yet been decided.
“What you can’t do is say that nothing can be done,” said Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-3rd District, who won a 13th term in the House.
DeLauro said the delegation can still be effective in many ways, including lobbying federal agencies to help constituents, as she did for veterans in her district who were about to lose their housing.
“You take on the issues that are important, and you try to find a way,” DeLauro said.
The Democratic Senate blocked many House initiatives, including more than 40 attempts to repeal or amend the Affordable Care Act.
Now President Obama will be the backstop, using his veto to keep some of the legislation Connecticut Democrats oppose from becoming law, DeLauro said.
“We lost in midterms all of the time,” DeLauro said of Democrats. “But it’s fair to say it was a tough cycle for Democrats. But I don’t dwell in the past, I move forward.”
DeLauro also said she expects to keep her leadership position as co-chair of the Democratic Steering and Policy Committee in the next Congress, which will be gaveled in in January.
The silver lining in the election for Rep. Elizabeth Esty, D-5th District is that her decisive 54-46 percent win over Republican Mark Greenberg has erased her “freshman curse.” Traditionallly, members of Congress, especially in swing districts like the 5th, are most vulnerable during their first re-election bid.
The 2014 sweep in Connecticut by congressional Democrats marks the fourth consecutive cycle in which the party has won all U.S. House elections in the state.
Eric Ostermeier at the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey School of Public Affairs, said the Nutmeg State now has the third longest Democratic congressional streak in the nation, behind Massachusetts and Rhode Island.
Ostermeier, author of the Smart Politics web site, also says the current undefeated run by the Connecticut Democrats is by far the party’s best showing in state history.
Before this streak, Democrats hadn’t swept all Connecticut congressional races in even back-to-back cycles since the founding of the party in 1828, the professor said.
This year, “Connecticut ran counter to the national trend,” said University of Connecticut political science professor Ron Schurin.
While the governor’s race and some of the contests for constitutional offices, such as Secretary of State, were very close, the Democratic Party kept its lock on the state’s politics.
“Republicans in Connecticut suffer from not having a strong bench,” Schurin said.
“In a year that could have been a banner year for Republicans in the state, they suffered from not having first-tier candidates, or had some who were likable, like Dan Debicella (challenger to Rep. Jim Himes, D-4th District) who did not run great campaigns.”
As far as Greenberg, who, like failed 2012 Senate candidate Linda McMahon, self-financed his campaign, Schurin said, “Republicans should learn that nominating millionaire candidates is not a sure path to victory.”