Washington – While Connecticut’s congressional races are being drowned out by a cacophony of heated rhetoric in the presidential race, Rep. Rosa DeLauro is facing perhaps the most serious challenge in a political career that spans decades.
DeLauro, heavily favored to hold onto her 3rd District seat, is being challenged by GOP rival Margaret Streicker, who has hundreds of thousands of dollars to spend on television ads. Streicker also has the will and energy to challenge a popular incumbent during the pandemic, which has presented new obstacles to political newcomers who are keen to make themselves known to voters.
“The unfortunate reality is that this is a personal format,” she said. “People want to meet the candidate.”
So Streicker, 45, is knocking on doors — she estimates about 2,500 of them so far — and meeting potential supporters in small groups, all in a socially distanced way, she said.
“I’m also doing a lot of talk radio, which I’m learning to enjoy,” she said.
Meanwhile, DeLauro, 77, has placed her re-election on the back burner, focusing instead on her work as a senior member of the House Appropriations Committee. She said her priority has been to work on a series of stimulus bills that have provided trillions of dollars to prop up the nation’s struggling economy and provide emergency aid to individual Americans. She has represented her New Haven-based district since 1991.
“We’re in the middle of a pandemic,” DeLauro said. “This crisis is killing people and our economic security has been rent asunder. That’s what I’m focused on.”
To DeLauro, the pandemic has provided an opportunity to advance legislation that she’s spent years fighting for, including paid family leave, a $50 billion child care stabilization fund to provide grants to child care providers, and a new, expanded child tax credit.
DeLauro first introduced a paid family leave bill in 1997 and has promoted an expanded child tax credit since 2003. “I didn’t come late to these issues,” she said.
Interviewed as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was in talks with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, the Democratic lawmaker observed, “Everything I fought for is being negotiated right now.”
If former Vice President Joe Biden wins the White House and Democrats gain control of the Senate, DeLauro has the chance to make permanent some of the pandemic-focused programs she’s championed — especially since she’s the leading candidate to chair the House Appropriations Committee in the next Congress.
While she’s not door knocking, DeLauro said she’s met with constituents on Zoom who are seeking federal help. “I’ve been in touch with the restaurant folk. I’ve been in touch with the child care people,” she said. “I’m not focusing on a campaign for re-election.”
Streicker, a wealthy real estate developer, has partly self-financed her campaign. That has helped her in blanketing the New Haven-based congressional district with television ads.
In the first one she says, “If you’re like me, you’re sick and tired of what’s going on in America.” That includes “police being attacked,” Streicker says as photos of police in riot gear flash on the screen, “runaway taxes” and a “broken health care system.”
As DeLauro’s picture flashes across the screen, Streicker suggests residents are weary of “politicians lining their own pockets.”
Streiker also pledges “I will defend, not defund the police.”
Hers is a classic challenger’s campaign, accusing an incumbent with becoming out-of-touch with voters. She’s also running as a divorced single mom with four young children who are 14, 13, 10 and six. That makes her an ideal candidate for the Republican party, because that profile appeals to a voting bloc the GOP is losing — suburban female voters. And Streicker is able to self-finance her campaign, allowing the party to funnel its resources elsewhere.
Streicker said she considers the money she’s spent trying to unseat DeLauro, “an investment in the future of Connecticut.”
She also said she’s actively seeking donations from others, and has had some success.
Streicker ended the second quarter of the year with $456,443 in cash-on-hand in her campaign account. At that point, she had loaned her campaign $350,000. But she also raised about $300,000 from individual donors.
Meanwhile, DeLauro had less than $288,000 in campaign cash at the end of the second quarter.
The lawmaker said she’s likely to run ads, too, but promises they will not be attack ads and probably won’t mention Streicker at all.
“If I’m going to do it, it’s going to be about me,” DeLauro said.
DeLauro has, however, fodder to attack Streicker. The challenger’s former real estate firm, Newcastle Realty, was accused of manipulating and violating rent regulations and in 2015 agreed to settle charges for a $1.5 million payment of fines and legal fees, without admitting guilt.
Last year, Streicker wrote to New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo that her firm would leave the state because of new, stricter rent regulations.
The presidential race is expected to provide huge coattails this year, and that might not help Streicker in a district that has voted for DeLauro by huge margins ever since the Democrat was first elected to the U.S. House in 1990. Two years ago, DeLauro trounced GOP challenger Angel Cadena, winning 94% of the vote.
Kenneth Long, a professor of history and political science at the University of St. Joseph, said “Streicker must realize that defeating DeLauro in a year favorable to Democrats is virtually impossible.”
“DeLauro typically wins by almost a 2 to 1 margin. So … if Streicker shaves more than a dozen points away from De Lauro, she still loses,” Long said. “But…she may be running for a race to come. By beating expectations and losing by 10% or so and not more, she’d demonstrate that she can be a formidable candidate for the GOP in future contests where and when she could be more viable.”
That chance may come in two years, Long said, if Democrats win big in November.
“If Democrats sweep the presidency and Senate this election, and hold the reigns in Hartford to boot, when things go wrong — and that’s bound to happen — opportunities will present themselves for Republican victories down the road,” Long said.
Unlike other Republicans who are relying on Trump’s steadfastly loyal base to sweep them into office, Streicker has positioned herself as more of a moderate. She says she’ll join the bipartisan “Problem Solvers” caucus if she’s elected.
“We need to end this extreme hyper-partisanship,” she said. Streicker also said she’s “a pragmatist” who will work with either Trump or Biden next year.
She says she does not agree with Trump’s position on everything, but declined “to go down a list” of issues where she is in disagreement with the president. The only rift with the president she was willing to mention was abortion. Streicker said she supports Roe v. Wade, the landmark Supreme Court decision that established abortion rights in the United States.
But she declined to criticize Trump for appointing, just weeks before the election, a Supreme Court nominee, Amy Coney Barrett, who is widely expected to support overturning Roe v. Wade.
“The president was elected for four years, not three-and-a-half,” she said.
Long said that Streicker, “as a pro-choice, ‘soccer mom’ type, and successful businesswoman… ticks off a lot of boxes that many in the Republican Party are hoping to work with to rebuild in the future.”
DeLauro, meanwhile, is a champion of reproductive rights and a party leader on health and food safety issues.
A confidant of Pelosi, DeLauro has been dependably progressive, but has been outflanked on the left by some of the newest House Democrats, including Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York and Ilhan Omar of Minnesota. Unlike those freshmen lawmakers, DeLauro does not support defunding the police – something Streicker’s ad insinuates – nor does she back the idea of “Medicare for All,” preferring instead to allow Americans to “buy in” to a government-run health plan.
DeLauro will not be able to ignore Streicker forever. The two candidates are scheduled to debate on Oct. 22 at the Jewish Community Center in Woodbridge, along with a third candidate, the Green Party’s Justin Paglino. It is an in-person, live debate at the JCC, but it will not be open to the public due to COVID-19 restrictions. However, the event will be broadcast live on News 8.
Although campaigning isn’t taking up much of her schedule, DeLauro said she takes each re-election “very seriously.”
“I’ve never shied away from a challenge,” she said.