Democratic Incumbent Has Serious Challenger This Time Around
October 27, 2010
After U.S. Rep. John Larson trounced Republican Philip Steele in the 2002 election, Steele told a reporter, "If you're a Republican in the 1st District, you'd have to be God to even have a real chance."
Eight years later, however, mere mortal Ann Brickley says she has a shot.
"We have the wind at our back," Brickley said. "I really believe it can happen."
Larson was first elected to the 1st District in 1998, continuing a Democratic hold on the seat unbroken since the mid-1950s. Shaped roughly like a backwards "C," the district consists of Hartford, East Hartford, West Hartford, Bristol and Manchester, along with Hartford's northern suburbs and parts of Glastonbury, Middletown and Torrington.
Democrats have a wide advantage in numbers. As of Oct. 25, there were 176,351 Democrats, 69,007 Republicans and 152,200 unaffiliated voters among a total of 399,620 registered voters, according to the secretary of the state's office.
Also, Larson is head of the Democratic Caucus and the fourth-most powerful Democrat in the House. He has far more money to spend on the present campaign — $858,896 cash on hand as of Oct. 13, compared with Brickley's $35,466, according to the Federal Election Commission (www.fec.gov).
But recent polls — highlighting evidence of the anti-incumbent, anti-Democrat mood running through the nation — show that Republicans are much more eager than Democrats to vote on Nov. 2. A poll by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press released on Oct. 21 says, "Republican engagement continues at record levels, dwarfing even improved Democratic showings on these indicators."
The overriding issues for voters of all stripes are jobs and the economy, and Brickley — the GOP's endorsed candidate and a fresh face on the political scene — has a deep background in business as an engineer, manager and consultant.
"A lot of people are frustrated by the direction of the country; they're frustrated by career politicians," Brickley said.
District residents and business owners tell her they are beset by high taxes, a health care bill that is jacking up insurance rates and the Democrats' push for a cap and trade bill that will burden constitutents with even more costs, Brickley said.
Larson said he understands voters' frustration and anger. He said he feels pressure from both sides — "from the left, you haven't done enough; from the right, you've done too much." The Bush administration deeply wounded the nation, Larson says, and recovery won't happen overnight. Voter frustration with current leaders is systemic, Larson said, but the 1st District election will come down to the job he's done and the fights he has fought on behalf of constituents.
"From that perspective, I feel very comfortable," Larson said.
He continues working to secure defense contracts that will benefit district workers and businesses such as Pratt & Whitney and Kaman Corp. and continues to push a "made in America" agenda in Congress, Larson said. He has helped create and will continue to advocate tax credits for businesses, he said. His website — http://www.larson.house.gov — details his stands on the issues.
The stimulus spending that he voted for saved public safety jobs and is adding jobs in East Windsor, Hartford and elsewhere in the district, Larson said. Federal dollars are helping to establish high speed rail for Connecticut and New England. (The state recently landed a $121 million grant to rebuild the Springfield-to-New Haven line.)
The health care bill, Larson said, is providing real protection for people with diabetes and other ailments, for children with autism. Brickley, Larson said, "would take the insurance card out of their hands that they just got." She would halt stimulus spending just as steel is being delivered to construction sites, he said.
Brickley, of Wethersfield, says the stimulus bill was ineffective because it did not encourage businesses to invest and hire more employees. She favors lower taxes and elimination of unnecessary regulations, among other initiatives to boost employment.
The health care law, Brickley says on her website, http://www.brickleyforcongress.com, "creates another entitlement that is not sustainable.
"It will increase the deficit, raise taxes, give more control to government bureaucrats, and reduce the quality of care for seniors on Medicare," she says. "I support measures that provide patients more flexibility and control over health care and that lower health care costs, including giving consumers the ability to shop around the country for coverage.? I support tort reform, including caps on damages to reduce defensive medicine costs and lower costs due to frivolous lawsuits."
Republican State Chairman Chris Healy said Larson's spending on radio and TV ads indicates that, unlike in previous elections, he has acknowledged a serious challenge.
"If he thought he had it going away, he certainly isn't acting that way," Healy said.
Asked about his views on the race Tuesday, Larson said he will forge on with a message of steady economic revival.
"My attitude is, I'm a happy warrior," he said. "We're out there making this case every single day."
Also running for the seat are Chris Hutchinson, the Socialist candidate, and Green Party candidate Ken Krayeske.
Hutchinson has criticized the national health care bill for not going far enough. He advocates free, universal coverage and would pay for it by slashing the military budget and ending the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Krayeske, an activist and journalist, has made a name in the state through blunt challenges to authority, most famously in a confrontation last year with University of Connecticut basketball coach Jim Calhoun. Among other issues, Krayeske has focused his 1st District campaign on the inequity of wealth in the nation and raising the minimum wage.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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