Our D.C. Bureau Democrats ‘confident’ about 5th
WASHINGTON — The chairman of the Democratic Party’s congressional campaign arm said Friday he believed Connecticut’s 5th District would stay in party hands, notwithstanding the abrupt decision of incumbent Rep. Elizabeth Esty to withdraw from the race.
“I am confident we will be hold this seat in Connecticut,” said Rep. Ben Ray Lujan, D-N.M., chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. “This one matters to us. We need to pay very close attention to it.”
Esty announced March 26 she would not run for a fourth term after acknowledging mistakes in handling the 2016 exit of her former chief of staff, Tony Baker, who was abusive to her former scheduler, Anna Kain.
Her withdrawal created a vacuum that both Democrats and Republicans in the district are scrambling to fill.
On the Democratic side, Mark Barden and Nicole Hockley, both of whom lost children in the 2012 mass-shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, are contemplating bids to replace Esty. They are co-founders of Sandy Hook Promise, which offers training to teachers, schools, students and community groups on how best to identify and get treatment for troubled youth who may be prone to violence.
“I think Nicole and Mark are incredible leaders, not only in the community and the district, but also across America,” Lujan said in a briefing for regional reporters based in Washington. “I think either one of them would be a very strong candidate to hold that important seat.”
Other possible Democratic contenders include first selectman of Simsbury, Mary Glassman.
In her bid for a third term in 2016, Esty won 58 percent of the vote — swamping GOP opponent Clay Cope. But the district as a whole went to Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton by a thin margin of just over 50 percent.
Esty herself has said parts of the Naugatuck Valley are a “mini rustbelt,” having never fully recovered from the decline in American manufacturing.
Republicans insist there is fertile ground there.
“This is a toss-up district,” said J.R. Romano, chairman of the state Republican Party. “This is going to be a very, very interesting congressional race.”
Former Meriden Mayor Manny Santos, a Republican, has declared himself a candidate. State Rep. William Petit, R-Plainville, who lost his family in a brutal 2007 home invasion in Cheshire, also is considering a run. Another possible Republican contender is Dan Carter, a Danbury state representative who lost to Sen. Richard Blumenthal in 2016.
Democrats enjoy a registration advantage in the district of eight percentage points. But in the wake of Esty’s departure, the authoritative Cook Political Report downgraded the district from “Solid Democratic” to “Lean Democratic.”
“In light of her self-inflicted scandal, Esty’s exit is probably good news for Democrats’ chances of holding the seat,” said David Wasserman, who monitors House races for the report. But even so, “the open seat should draw a much higher caliber Republican into the contest.”
As he ticked through many of the 104 races that the DCCC considers competitive, Lujan insisted Democrats were taking nothing for granted.
Nevertheless, with President Trump’s favorable-rating percentage hovering in the high 30s-low 40s, “we have a national environment that is showing positive indicators that we can win in seats all across the country,” said Lujan, whose district covers most of northern New Mexico, including Santa Fe.
Democrats need to turn over 24 Republican seats to win the majority, which political handicappers consider a possibility if Trump’s favorability rating does not improve.