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Esty’s Vacancy Presents Opportunity For Crowded Political Field

U.S. Department of the Interior

On Monday, U.S. Representative Elizabeth Esty, who represents Connecticut’s 5th Congressional District, said that she won’t be seeking re-election in November. The Congresswoman's announcement came after she admitted to mishandling a claim of sexual harassment, abuse and assault from one of her staff. Esty's decision now opens the seat to competition from both Democrats and Republicans.

Sacred Heart University Political Science Professor Gary Rose recently spoke to Senior Political Reporter Ebong Udoma about the significance of the 5th Congressional District in Connecticut and how the race to fill the seat is already taking shape.

Below is a transcript of their conversation.

The 5th Congressional District is considered a swing district, it’s considered the swing district in Connecticut. I do question, to some extent, how much of a swing district it is because we’ve been electing Democrats with some regularity in the 5th. But nevertheless, there is really almost parity between Republicans and Democrats, registered, in that district, [and a] large percentage of Independents not surprisingly, as there is in all districts and across the state as a whole. 

To say that it has a great deal of significance within the state may not be the way to look at it, but I think that it could be viewed in some respects as a bellwether for the region. What happens in the 5th could potentially mirror to some extent what might happen in the New England region.

How did Trump do in the 5th District?

Well he was defeated by Hillary, but he did fairly well. Hillary, not surprisingly, carried the 5th as she did the State of Connecticut as a whole. But he did well because in the 5th District there are quite a few blue collar, white, working class individuals who have a high school diploma, many of them in urban areas and also in some of the rural towns, which if you will, is Trump country. And it is a district where we also find a number of so-called Reagan Democrats, you know, working class Democrats that are fairly conservative on a range of social, moral and fiscal issues. I would say that the 5th District, even though it’s been trending Democratic, could swing back to the Republican side in this election. I think a lot of it is going to determine though at the top of ticket and how that’s going to be resolved in the months ahead.

The top of the ticket, you’re talking about the gubernatorial race?

Yeah, the gubernatorial race. 

And now we have 20, 27 maybe, candidates in that race and no clear person has emerged in either party.

Yes, and quite frankly I haven’t seen so many candidates for governor in one year. And I’ve been studying Connecticut politics for many years. At the same time what is also very surprising here is not only do we have a large number of candidates, but there is just no one at this point that’s really breaking out of the pack. And we are talking about a nominating convention next month.

What do you make of Mary Glassman being the first one out to declare that she wants to run? She’s the former first selectman from Simsbury who ran twice for lieutenant governor.

Apparently a good record. And familiar with campaigning. Has good media presence. If I recall correctly when she did run for lieutenant governor, she availed herself very well and received some very high marks as a potential gubernatorial candidate some day. I would say that Glassman’s announcement that she’s interested in the 5th is, probably for a number of Democrats, very welcomed. I think that she would be considered a very good candidate for that race and highly competitive too.

How about rising star in the Republican party, Erin Stewart, the mayor of New Britain? She seems to still want to focus on her gubernatorial run. She announced that she’s raised over $100,000 since she’s declared, which is pretty good because it hasn’t been too long since she got into the race. She initially is saying she’s not interested in the 5th but do you think that she might be convinced?

When people say that they’re not interested, in politics, often that means they are interested. You have to take that with a grain of salt. And so, Erin Stewart, mayor of New Britain, she certainly can win the votes. Not only members of her party but also unaffiliated voters and she does well among Democrats too. She has crossover appeal. And with executive experience, I think she could probably weld together a coalition within the 5th District to actually win that race.

Maybe it’s the same thing with Susan Bysiewicz. She’s perhaps looking at the nominating contest for governor thinking, wow there’s going to be, again, half a dozen people I’m going to have to go up against or more. It’s going to be a contentious convention in May. Maybe several candidates on the Republican ballot in August for the primary. Do I want to go through this? Or do I want to pursue the 5th District where there’s less competition and where I could possibly have the party behind me as well.

What do you make of the fact that even though Esty had support from the Democratic leadership in Washington that it was the local Democrats that were able to push her out? What does that say about the dynamic going into November’s elections?

That’s the whole nature of Connecticut politics, which is one of the beauties of our system, is that the town committees send delegates to the nominating conventions. And who controls those nominating conventions? Not the people on Capitol Hill but instead the grassroots activists of the various local town committees throughout the 5th District, and that’s really where the pressure came from. The pressure came from the bottom up in order for Elizabeth to finally decide not to run for re-election.  

Looks like an interesting election season that we’re looking forward to in Connecticut.  

Absolutely. This is one wild, wide-open nominating contest and I think it’s going to be a very contentious, really unpredictable general election as well.

As WSHU Public Radio’s award-winning senior political reporter, Ebong Udoma draws on his extensive tenure to delve deep into state politics during a major election year.
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