GOP congressional challengers facing the power of incumbency

Keith M. Phaneuf / CTMirror.org

Jennifer T. Nye, the Republican nominee for Congress in the 1st District.

When she went to the state Republican Party convention in May as a delegate from Manchester, Jennifer Nye had no plans to challenge John Larson, who has represented the Hartford-area 1st Congressional District since 1999.

But when Nye learned at the convention that there was no Republican who would challenge him, she volunteered.

“I felt very strongly that (running unopposed) should not happen in any political race,” Nye said. “It’s unAmerican… No one should get a free pass. It keeps the system in check.”

Larson, and fellow Democratic Reps. Joe Courtney and Rosa DeLauro are all facing underfunded, and largely unknown, Republican challengers in an election year where the competitive races in the state are all for statewide offices or for the general assembly.

The GOP candidates for Congress may lack campaign cash and name recognition, but, like Nye, they are determined to offer voters an alternative to what they have now, an all-Democratic congressional delegation.

They are facing strong headwinds, not the least of which is the power of incumbency. Because incumbents have several key advantages, the rate of re-election in the U.S. House of Representatives has been more than 80 percent, often climbing as high as 90 percent, over the past 50 years.

University of Connecticut political science professor Ronald Schurin said challengers have several things to overcome.

One is the popularity of the incumbent, who won the seat because of his or her political skills, which grow stronger with experience. Another is that it’s much easier for an incumbent to raise campaign cash, Schurin said.

“And generally, incumbents represent districts where their party is the favored party,” he said.

The districts represented by DeLauro, Courtney and Larson have all been rated by political analysts as “safe Democratic.”

This is expected to be a “wave election,” especially for the U.S. House, with more incumbents than usual losing elections. But wave elections, which usually occur during midterms, help the party that’s out of power in the White House, so it’s expected to be a “blue wave” that helps Democrats and hurts Republicans.

Former Republican Congresswoman Nancy Johnson, for instance, lost her seat in a blue wave election in the middle of President George W. Bush’s second term.

Neither Nye, nor Courtney’s and DeLauro’s challengers, Danny Postemski and Angel Cadena, have filed quarterly reports with the Federal Elections Commission, indicating they have neither raised nor spent $5,000 since launching their campaigns.

Meanwhile, Larson has raised $1.5 million in his bid for re-election and Courtney and DeLauro have each raised more than $1 million.

Rep. Jim Himes, D- 4th District, has also raised far more than his Republican opponent, Harry Arora, but Arora boosted his campaign funds with a $500,000 personal loan.

Running shoestring campaigns

Nye, a former member of the Manchester Board of Directors, has criticized Larson for a plan to build tunnels to replace an aging I-84 viaduct in Hartford and ease the bottleneck at the interchange with I-91 in that city.

“It’s expensive and the state Department of Transportation doesn’t like the idea,” she said.

Nye has also disagreed with Larson’s sharp criticism of the Republican federal tax overhaul, saying she “likes the tax breaks” it gives many Americans.

Larson says most of the tax breaks in the plan have gone to the very rich, while the overhaul has ballooned the federal deficit. But he has refrained from taking on Nye, preferring instead to campaign on his record and a traditional Democratic agenda.

“Every campaign is different, however, the central issues still remain the same. People want solutions, for the economy, for jobs, for infrastructure, for student loan debt, for Social Security, and for health care,” Larson said.

Larson touted his constituent services, which include seeking to boost manufacturing jobs in the state.

As a member of the Ways and Means Committee, Larson also promised to “ensure Connecticut residents aren’t forced to pay more than their fair share.”

DeLauro, D-2nd District, has hit the campaign trail stumping for both herself and for a number of Democratic candidates for the Connecticut General Assembly.

“She has been door knocking in several towns,” said campaign spokesman Jimmy Tickey.

Mary Abrams, who is running against state Sen. Len Suzio, R-Meriden, and George Cabrera, who is trying to unseat state Sen. George Logan, R-Ansonia, are among the Democratic candidates who have received DeLauro’s help.

One of the most progressive Democrats in Congress, DeLauro would likely become the chairman of a House Appropriations Committee with jurisdiction over the budget of the Labor Department, the Department of Health and Human Services, and the Department of Education if she wins reelection and the Democrats take control of the U.S. House of Representatives in November.

As the top Democrat currently serving on that committee, DeLauro says she has “been able to hold the Trump Administration accountable while securing billions of dollars in increased funding for priorities across a broad range of programs.”

“I fought to take on stagnant wages, rising healthcare costs, besieged women’s health, insufficient work protections and training, and economic security for our seniors,” she said.

Angel Cadena

Her Republican rival, Cadena of Shelton, failed to unseat DeLauro when he ran against her two years ago. A former Marine who served in Afghanistan and Iraq, Cadena, 37, is a part-time truck driver who grew up in the rough streets of Chicago where he said he “was conditioned to have a disdain for career politicians that are all glamour and flash but no substance.”

He said DeLauro is “a great constituent service representative, but as an actual legislator she has failed to turn a single idea into a law.”

Cadena campaigns on the need to use technology to boost the economy and would like to see a bridge built across Long Island Sound to alleviate the 1-95 bottleneck.

He’s also pressing for the dredging of Connecticut ports to allow for more commerce and cruise ships, and supports the construction of a “hyperloop,” or a sealed tube or system of tubes through which a vehicle may travel at high speeds free of air resistance or friction. Cadena would like the hyperloop to connect Boston and Washington D.C., with stops in New Haven, New York and Philadelphia.

He said his campaign consists of a handful of volunteers who promote his candidacy, and heavy use of social media.

Cadena recently created a seven-minute video cartoon that grabbed plenty of social media attention and criticism because it depicts a purple-haired DeLauro flying on a broom, and also insults other Democrats — including U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren in an Indian head dress —  and even takes a jab at Connecticut Republican chairman J.R. Romano.

DeLauro won 69 percent of the vote against Cadena in the 2016 election.

Putting family on the back burner

Dan Postemski

Dan Postemski

Another GOP challenger, Dan Postemski, an Iraq War veteran from Hampton, did not respond to requests for an interview. Postemski is running against Courtney.

In a Facebook post earlier this month, Postemski said he “stepped up” when no one else would challenge Courtney and was promised help that never materialized. He said he was urged to put his family “on the back burner.”

“So, I said the hell with them and went back to spending time with my family,” Postemski said.

Courtney, who is seeking his seventh term in office, said “as someone who ran twice before, being elected by 83 votes in the closest general election margin in the country in 20 years, I’ll never take this district for granted.”

Courtney won his first election to the House, against former Republican Rep. Rob Simmons, by that razor-thin margin. He is known for his focus on prodding the Navy to increase its submarine production at Electric Boat and, more recently, for his efforts to find help for homeowners in his district whose foundations are crumbling because of tainted concrete.

“Voters in this district know Joe’s values, ideals, and how hard he works every day to get things done for eastern Connecticut,” said campaign manager Brian Coughlin.

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