Sen. Chris Murphy on the Senate floor Wednesday decrying inaction on gun control. C-SPAN
Republican U.S. Senate candidate Matthew Corey (left) and U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy during their one debate last month. WFSB-TV

Washington – Connecticut’s race for U.S. Senate gives voters a clear ideological choice between Chris Murphy, a progressive Democrat seeking re-election to that chamber for the first time, and Matthew Corey, a conservative Republican who has never held public office and is running on his “outsider” status.

The race is a sleeper compared to the hand-to-hand combat that marks other Senate races in the midterm. But it is notable for the sharp contrast between the candidates in their backgrounds, political philosophy and campaign strategies.

Political analysts rate the Connecticut U.S. Senate race “solidly Democratic” in a contentious midterm where more than a dozen Senate races are considered highly competitive. The results of those races will determine whether the GOP can add to its slim 51-49 majority in the chamber, or — less likely — whether a “blue wave” will propel Democrats into the majority in the Senate.

Murphy has largely ignored Corey, who owns a commercial window cleaning company and has tried three times, unsuccessfully,  to unseat Rep. John Larson, D-1st District.

“I haven’t really focused on my opponent,” Murphy said.

Instead, the senator has been promoting, in stump speeches and television commercials, his work in Congress, including the passage of mental health legislation and a bill that aims to expand a database used in FBI background checks of gun purchasers – both with bipartisan support.

Murphy walking through New Haven Allan Appeal / The New Haven Independent

But while he touts his ability to work across the aisle, Murphy has also been a sharp critic of President Donald Trump, especially when it comes to the president’s efforts to repeal or weaken the Affordable Care Act and his foreign policies, including the overtures to North Korean President Kim Jung Un.

“Health care is a big issue and it’s on the ballot this year,” Murphy said.

He said his Republican challenger “seems like a real decent guy,” but noted that during a recent debate, Corey gave Trump an “A” grade for his performance in office.

“I don’t think Connecticut wants to send someone to Washington who wants to stand with the president,” Murphy said. “I just don’t think it matches with the people of the state.”

Corey, meanwhile, has spent much of his campaign attacking Murphy.

His television commercial knocks Murphy for what has become an annual rite – the senator walks across Connecticut each summer to meet and greet constituents. Murphy, who has two young sons, moved his family to the Washington D.C. suburbs a few years ago, but has kept his home in Cheshire and spends his time there on weekends and when the Senate is not in session.

“Sen. Murphy has moved his entire family to Washington,’’ Corey says in his ad. “He has no vested interest in Connecticut other than your vote…as Sen. Murphy is walking across the state, I am working across the state.”

Corey, who did not respond to requests for interviews, also campaigns on what he calls a “working class” background and his experience as a business owner.

“I get my leadership skills through being a small business owner.  You know, I’m responsible for people’s families and livelihoods,” Corey said during the only U.S. Senate debate that was held this year.

Matthew Corey accepting the GOP endorsement for U.S. Senate. mark pazniokas /

In a series of press releases, Corey has blasted Murphy for raising money for Democrats who are campaigning in favor of stricter federal gun laws, for opposing the confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, and for voting against a massive GOP tax overhaul.

“What we’ve achieved finally getting this economy to grow could all go by the wayside if we smother the economy with higher taxes, more regulation and more litigation,” Corey said in a release.

Murphy said the Trump-backed tax plan is one reason the president “is a disaster for Connecticut.”

He said the tax plan singles out “blue states” like Connecticut by capping the deductibility of state and local taxes when filers prepare their federal taxes, a move Murphy said will result in higher federal taxes for state residents.

“I think you want somebody who’s going to work with Trump when he’s doing something right for the state, and work against him when he’s doing something wrong,” Murphy said.  “Unfortunately, most of the time, Donald Trump is doing things to hurt us.”

Corey, meanwhile, is a strong supporter of Trump policies, including the president’s crackdown on immigration and his controversial trade and foreign policy initiatives.

“We have one president and one foreign policy, especially when it involves sworn enemies of the U.S. like Iran and North Korea.  We need to stand firm and united and protect our best interests,”Corey said.

Murphy’s fundraising advantage

The candidates are also distinguished by how much money they’ve been able to raise and spend on their campaign. Murphy reported raising more than $12 million as of Oct. 17; Corey raised a little more than $129,000.

Murphy said a key difference between this race and his first bid for Senate six years ago, when he ran against billionaire Linda McMahon, is “not having someone spending millions of dollars on the other side.” McMahon, now the head of Trump’s Small Business Administration, spent about $50 million of her own money on her unsuccessful bid for the Senate.

To try to raise his profile, Corey traveled to Washington this summer to attend a book signing for controversial conservative pundit Ann Coulter and for an interview with Breitbart News, which was once run by former White House chief strategist Stephen Bannon, who has made the conservative website more nationalist.

Meanwhile, Murphy has spent a lot of time recently campaigning with other Democratic candidates. He traveled to Florida to campaign for embattled Sen. Bill Nelson and for Andrew Gillum, who is running for governor in that state.

But most of his campaigning in the days leading up to the election has been on his own or with Connecticut Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ned Lamont and other Democratic candidates in the state. He has focused his appearances in the voter-rich, larger cities, including Stamford, Bridgeport and New Haven.

Recent Quinnipiac polls show Murphy has a 15-point advantage over Corey when it comes to support from likely voters. But one of those polls, taken at the beginning of October, gave Murphy a 58 – 37 percent favorability rating and determined that 57 percent of those polled hadn’t  heard enough about Corey to form an opinion.

Despite the advantage his campaign war chest and name recognition give him, Murphy said “I’ll be fighting for every vote.”

Ana has written about politics and policy in Washington, D.C.. for Gannett, Thompson Reuters and UPI. She was a special correspondent for the Miami Herald, and a regular contributor to The New York TImes, Advertising Age and several other publications. She has also worked in broadcast journalism, for CNN and several local NPR stations. She is a graduate of the University of Maryland School of Journalism.

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