Democratic Victory in the 5th Congressional District

Voters in New Britain resoundingly voted for a change in direction in Washington on Election Day, helping to defeat 12-term incumbent Nancy Johnson in her hometown. Democrat Chris Murphy defeated the congresswoman here 9,037 to 4,506. Murphy’s strong showing was part of a Democratic sweep in the Hardware City that saw Ned Lamont decisively beat Joe Lieberman (?-CT) after Lieberman had edged Lamont in the August 8th primary won by Lamont.

The margin for Murphy was almost identical to the blowout Charlotte Koskoff handed Johnson in New Britain in 1996 when Murphy was the youthful manager of Koskoff’s campaign.

That year Koskoff — an articulate nominee who would run three times for the job — nearly pulled off a political miracle with only token support from the national and state party. Johnson had been bruised by her chairing of a congressional ethics panel that failed to adequately investigate then House Speaker Newt Gingrich for his financial dealings and improprieties. Johnson was also hurt by GOP efforts to gut domestic programs in the federal budget as President Clinton rode easily into a second term. But Koskoff’s big leads in the cities of the old 6th Congressional District gradually gave way to strong support for Johnson in the many small Republican towns of the district and Johnson eked out a 1,200 vote win.

This year Murphy didn’t have to sweat a Republican surge in the towns of the Farmington Valley and Litchfield Hills. Johnson’s ties to the right-wing GOP agenda and her mean-spirited attacks led not only New Britain and Meriden but most towns in the district to reject her candidacy.

From his acceptance speech last May Murphy let it be known that he would be a different kind of candidate and it served him well through the vote on November 7th. He correctly focused on Johnson’s support for the Bush Iraq policy, her authorship of a lobbyist-inspired Medicare prescription drug law and her vote for a federal budget that turned its back on working and middle income families. Beyond this list of issues, Murphy also conveyed a sense of optimism and “hope” — one of the key tasks of leadership for politicians at all levels. He defined himself and conducted himself in a positive way that made many past Johnson supporters in those suburbs change their minds and made those anti-Murphy TV spots backfire on the incumbent.

Johnson, who always managed to cultivate a “moderate” image in all her previous races, used the Republican playbook of fear and division — a strategy that failed spectacularly.

Murphy, backed by a grassroots campaign capably led by manager Sarah Merriam and with enough financing to adequately respond to the Johnson onslaught, overcame conventional wisdom and prevailed. The victory made for a perfect symmetry between 1996 and 2006. A decade ago campaign manager Chris Murphy helped Koskoff come as close as can be to an impossible win. This year candidate Murphy finally gave New Britain Democrats and Democrats throughout the sprawling district a victory they had been seeking for the last 24 years.