A Democratic victory is projected in Connecticut’s fifth congressional district in Western Connecticut. But Sam Caligiuri, the party-endorsed Republican challenger, isn’t deterred. He insists he can dethrone two-term Democratic incumbent Chris Murphy.
Elected in 2006 after ousting 12-term Republican Nancy Johnson, 54 percent to 44 percent, Murphy may not be as secure as he thinks. True, he was reelected with 59 percent of the vote in 2008, but that was a strong Democratic year. This year looks far better for Republicans, and polling by the Caligiuri campaign puts Murphy’s re-election number under 50 percent, which means he’s potentially vulnerable.
Caligiuri has been a member of the Connecticut Senate since 2006, representing Southington and Wolcott and parts of Cheshire and Waterbury. He succeeded Murphy in that seat, while Murphy was capturing, Johnson’s seat in the U.S. House.
Caligiuri believes the district leans center-right, though it has a Cook Partisan Voting Index of +2 in favor of Democrats. “For thirty years, [the House seat] was held by a Republican,” he said in a phone interview. “In 2006, people were angry. We lost our base because the right stopped acting like fiscal Republicans.” Caligiuri says Murphy can’t blame Republicans or George W. Bush now. He must defend his record in representing the district.
According to Caligiuri, Murphy has supported Pelosi 99 percent of the time. “Whether for the ‘go along to get along’ or because he actually agrees with her—and I expect it is the latter—he is, ideologically, a hard core liberal.”
And being a reliable liberal in the most conservative district in Connecticut may not fly in 2010. Kerry won the district in the 2004 presidential election by 1,112 votes. He and Bush each had 49 percent of the vote. Obama won it in 2008 by 14 percent.
Caligiuri believes Murphy will suffer in November because he voted for the liberal trifecta: cap-and-trade, stimulus, and public health care. But when you come from a district where jobs and an unemployment rate of 9 percent are the most important issues, liberalism may have lost some of its public support.
“People are deeply, deeply concerned,” Caligiuri said. “Murphy is wrong on government spending and he believes that big spending is the answer.”
Caligiuri is capitalizing on what he sees are his strengths and his opponent’s weaknesses. As former acting mayor of the city of Waterbury—the largest city in the district and heavily Democratic —Caligiuri says his ability to appeal to Democratic voters is bound to hurt Murphy’s chances in November.
Waterbury is a hotbed of conservative Democrats. Yet, Caligiuri’s record as a successful vote-getter there shows he has the ability to do well in a very competitive environment, even one that leans Democratic. “My ability to beat Murphy in Waterbury will take thousands of votes away from him,” Caligiuri said.
Another possible factor in Caligiuri’s favor: his strength on fiscal issues. He was the only state senator to vote against the 2007-2009 state budget because he believed it “violated the state-spending cap and would lead to huge state deficits.” As a result, he was called the “last sane man in Hartford” by the Hartford Courant.
Murphy has out-raised Caligiuri by almost 3-to-1, but he can still win. He doesn’t have to match Murphy in fundraising. “My goal is to raise the money we need to get our message out,” Caligiuri explained. According to OpenSecrets.org, 98 percent of the money raised by the Caligiuri campaign is from individuals. Roughly two-thirds of Murphy’s contributions come from individuals.
What Caligiuri needs to win is a Republican wave that sweeps the country, including normally Democratic Connecticut. He’s a long-shot candidate, but what’s important at the moment is that he’s in a position to take advantage of wave, should it materialize.
Huntley McGowan is an intern at THE WEEKLY STANDARD.