New Haven sent Dannel Malloy to the governor’s mansion. Can it catapult Chris Murphy to the U.S. Senate?
That’s the challenge now that city Democrats have chosen Murphy as their candidate to fill the Senate seat being vacated by Joe Lieberman. The sometimes-competing factions of this one-party city’s ruling Democrats came together Monday to make the long-expected endorsement.
Leading Democrats made it official Monday evening. First the Democratic Town Committee unanimously endorsed Murphy, a 5th District U.S. Representative, against longshot opponent Susan Bysiewicz for the upcoming party primary for the seat. Then pretty much all the city’s elected officials—from U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro and the entire state delegation to 27 out of 30 city aldermen and Mayor John DeStefano—announced their endorsement of Murphy at an event on the Green.
It was a remarkable picture of party unity—labor-backed politicians and DeStefano/City Hall allies who fought against each other in 2010’s gubernatorial primary and 2011’s municipal races standing side by side.
The focus was not on the primary but on the main event, when Democrat Murphy is expected to face Republican Linda McMahon in the race that will consume most of Connecticut’s attention in November, a race that could help decide which party controls the U.S. Senate come 2013.
Like any politician receiving any endorsement, Murphy called New Haven’s show of support a high point of his campaign.
But unlike some other endorsements, this one does matter. A lot.
New Haven, Murphy pointed out, “is a city you can’t win Connecticut without.” Not if you’re a Democrat.
“You don’t go to Washington or to the statehouse if you don’t win New Haven,” DeStefano noted.
Malloy learned that in 2010’s gubernatorial race. He, like Murphy now in 2012, faced a far wealthier Republican financing his own campaign. He needed ground troops. New Haven’s emerging labor-backed vote-pulling operation (read about that here) amassed a surprisingly high turnout and by far the state’s largest municipal margin of victory, 18,613 votes, a 6 to 1 difference. That put Malloy over the top. (He won the entire state by only 5,637 votes.) Earlier, in the 2010 Democratic gubernatorial primary, that labor-backed operation backed Malloy over a candidate supported by DeStefano, and put Malloy over the top in DeStefano’s backyard.
New Haven already had the state’s largest Democratic Party. It now had a feared vote machine that, this year, Murphy wooed early and successfully.
Perhaps seeking to tap into the Malloy 2010 magic, Murphy is opening a local campaign headquarters Saturday in a former Whalley Avenue auto-repair garage that Malloy’s team inhabited in 2010.
Unlike Malloy, who for years had cultivated allies here, Murphy is an unknown in the city. And this fall, pullers might not be enough to if he wants to amass the same kind of vote total Malloy won. As one veteran campaign worker noted, he’ll need to energize the city’s Democrats and independents to care enough to vote in a year when the state’s presidential race is a foregone conclusion, the “Yes We Can” history-making juggernaut of the 2008 Obama campaign has dissipated, and no competitive (or even contested) local state legislative contests loom.
Murphy got to work Monday pitching the city on caring about his campaign. His anticipated general election campaign.
He didn’t mention the upcoming party primary. (Polls show him leading by 30 percent.) Rather, he focused on the battle for who will control the U.S. Senate. Republicans gained control of the U.S. House of Representatives in the 2010 mid-term elections, setting up a two-year gridlock duel with the Democratic Senate and White House.
Murphy described an upcoming campaign about character—not personal character, but rather the “character of the nation.”
“The Republicans are on the verge of taking over the Senate. Their path to the Senate runs through Connecticut,” he told the two dozen town committee members who assembled in the basement of the Hall of Records on Orange Street to endorse him.
The outcome, he said, will determine whether, for instance, the Senate’s environmental committee chair “believes in global warming” and whether the finance chair supports “tax fairness” or “cutting taxes for the top 1 percent.”
He continued that theme afterwards in remarks to the assembled endorsing politicos on the Green.
“What we are seeing is an ideology that would tell us the only way to prosperity is by sinking or swimming on our own,” he said of “extremist” Republicans who have “hijacked” their party.
DeLauro and DeStefano picked up on the theme in their endorsing remarks. “I watch them every day,” DeLauro said of conservative Republicans in D.C. “There isn’t much concern for what is going on in the lives of working families. They don’t care. Chris cares.”
Republican McMahon, for her part, has also set her sights on the general campaign—and on Murphy—rather than on her own party primary, against former U.S. Rep. Chris Shays. That primary, too, is considered a foregone conclusion.
The McMahon campaign has begun issuing releases depicting Murphy as a Democrat who kills jobs by supporting too much federal spending and regulation. (Example: Her website’s Monday news release concerned not Chris Shays, but “The Chris Murphy No-Jobs Plan.”) A true debate looms in the fall with a genuine difference of opinions, starkly divergent visions of government’s role in society. Murphy Monday evening argued that “massive public spending”—on transportation, on schools, on science—is what spurs private innovation and investment and creates jobs. (Click here for a story detailing his position in an earlier New Haven visit.) Both have seized on last week’s U.S. Supreme Court decision as campaign issues—McMahon to call for repeal of the Affordable Care Act (watch her campaign video on the subject here), Murphy to embrace the decision and the law.
As part of his get-to-know-New Haven effort, Murphy also paid visits Monday to the editorial boards/staffs of the New Haven Independent and New Haven Register. At the Independent’s office, he supported passage of the DREAM Act and a “pathway to citizenship” for undocumented immigrants; public financing of Congressional races; as well as a constitutional amendment stating that corporations are not people.