Connecticut has turned steadily more blue over the past several years, with every statewide seat now held by a Democrat. But as Republican candidate Tom Foley leads the polls against Gov. Dannel Malloy, some Republicans in the state are expressing optimism about winning back House seats.
“We have a very good chance for Republican pickups,” said state Sen. John McKinney, who came in second to Foley in the Republican primary earlier this summer. “I definitely think that [Foley] running strong on the top of the ticket is going to help our congressional candidates.”
Potential pickups for Republicans, McKinney said, are Connecticut’s fourth and fifth districts. In the fourth district, Democratic incumbent Jim Himes faces Dan Debicella, a former State Senator with name recognition after his run for Himes’ seat in 2010. In that election, Himes won by seven percentage points.
In the traditionally contested fifth district, Congresswoman Elizabeth Esty faces a greater challenge, running against two-time candidate Mark Greenberg in her first re-election campaign without the presidential coattails she rode on two years ago, when she won by just three percentage points.
McKinney, who described races in the fourth and fifth districts as “extremely competitive,” said low enthusiasm among Democrats for Malloy could lead to low turnout among voters. In a Quinnipiac University poll from May, Malloy had a 46 percent approval rating. A recent CBS News/New York Times poll shows Foley having a seven-point lead.
Even if Malloy’s polling improves, Republicans have historically benefited from lower voter turnout during non-presidential election years, according to Gary Rose, chair of the politics department at Sacred Heart University. Rose said a higher percentage of midterm election voters are older and white, demographics that tend to lean Republican.
“Nationwide I think we are going to see a good year for Republicans,” Rose said. “That could affect a district like the fifth.”
Rose, who lives in the fifth district, said with more and more people voting along party lines, Foley’s lead could significantly help Greenberg. And even though Esty has already raised nearly $2 million for her campaign, Rose predicts that Greenberg will amass a war chest of his own.
Greenberg and Debicella were recently declared “young gun” candidates by the National Republican Campaign Committee, and McKinney predicts large amounts of outside money going into the two districts.
But Devon Puglia, a Connecticut Democratic Party spokesman, said the suggestion that voters will back the Republican candidates because of the “young gun” label was “ludicrous.”
“This is a headline-generating ploy that avoids any discussion of real issues,” Puglia said, calling Greenberg a “failed tea-party backed candidate.”
Puglia said he does not think Tom Foley will inspire Republicans to turn out to vote in large numbers, pointing to the fact that Republican primary turnout this summer was at its lowest since 1986.
The Yale College Republicans plan to canvass on weekends in support of House candidates like Debicella, according to Austin Schaefer ’15, the group’s former president who grew up in Connecticut’s fourth district. Schaefer said unseating Himes would be a “pretty big challenge,” and said he does not think Foley’s lead would have a huge impact on Republican congressional candidates’ odds given how Democratic-leaning the state has become.
Connecticut was formerly a sing state, but Rose said that changed as moderates began to perceive the Republican Party as more socially conservative and as the demographics of the state changed to include more Hispanic and African American voters. The first, second and third districts in New Haven generally vote Democratic.
New Haven, part of the third district, has over 50,000 registered Democrats but just 2,500 registered Republicans according to April data from the New Haven Registrar of Voters.