The Day – List with Joe and Jahanna show Democrats’ dilemma

Showing how bad Democratic political strategists fear things could get next November is Congressman Joe Courtney’s name appearing on the party’s list of the “most competitive (congressional) seats.”

There are 35 names on the endangered candidate list maintained by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. Actually, the committee uses the term “frontline,” which certainly sounds better. Whatever you call the list, it has been growing.

“Our Majority hinges on winning these tough Frontline races,” states the committee’s website.

In the past, the Second Congressional District defined the term toss-up district. Courtney claimed the seat by beating Rep. Rob Simmons by 83 votes in 2006. In recent elections, however, Courtney has sailed to easy victories.

Courtney deserves ample credit for playing a critical role in winning increased submarine construction contracts for Electric Boat. It is scary to imagine what the local economy would be like without the jobs the submarine work has created. Courtney has also made sure plenty of federal Covid rescue relief money ended up in eastern Connecticut.

My expectation is that Courtney will comfortably defeat Republican challenger Mike France, who is leaving his state representative seat serving Preston and Ledyard to make the challenge. Though it did not feature the congressional races, the results of a Sacred Heart University poll last week showed Connecticut residents feeling fairly positive, with 73.7% reporting their quality of life as being either “excellent” or “good,” which is welcomed news for incumbents like Courtney.

France is a rock-solid fiscal conservative and member of the legislature’s Conservative Caucus. He even voted against $7 million in state aid that Preston received to finish the environmental cleanup of the former Norwich Hospital property, opening it to redevelopment, because France did not like the other spending in the bill.

The Republican base should love France. But a centrist like Courtney, who brings home some bacon, should have broader appeal.

One indication of how concerned the Courtney campaign becomes is whether it goes negative against France. Solid favorites can afford to stay on the high road, which Courtney has in recent elections.

If threatened, the incumbent has openings to attack France. Courtney could use the Republican’s opposition to expanding absentee ballot access and France’s support for the anti-vaccine crowd to paint him as a right-wing extremist.

Yet it is not just Democrats who consider this seat potentially up for grabs. Courtney also shows up on the National Republican Congressional Committee list of Democratic-controlled House seats it is targeting, now more than 70 names long. An indication of how serious Republicans are taking the possibility of unseating Courtney will be whether outside money begins coming in to support France, either by way of direct contributions or via political action committees. So far, Courtney is handily outraising his challenger.

Also on both the Democratic “Frontline” list and the Republican target list is Rep. Jahanna Hayes in the 5th District, where two Republicans are competing for the nomination to run against her — former Darien first selectman Jayme Stevenson and surgeon and lawyer Dr. Michael Goldstein.

The big takeaway from all this is just how ominous it is for the Democrats nationally that congressional seats in Connecticut, all five of which the party has held for six straight elections, are even in the discussion.

One problem for the Democrats nationally is that the party’s priorities are misaligned with things that concern broad swaths of the American electorate. Democrats continue to point to the events of Jan. 6, 2021 and former President Trump’s continued lying about a stolen election — along with the unwillingness of most Republican leaders to repudiate Trump (many instead repeat his election lie) — as a serious threat to our constitutional democracy and self-rule. I agree. This alone should persuade voters not to return Republicans to power.

But saving democracy is not foremost on most people’s minds. It is high inflation and the growing difficulty to keep gas in the car and food in the refrigerator. Though wages have increased, for many it has not been enough to keep up.

While Democrats have focused on treating immigrants, despite their legal status, both fairly and humanely — a reaction to the Trump administration scapegoating them for the nation’s ills — significant numbers of Americans are more concerned with a lack of border security.

Democratic efforts to reform police conduct and ensure fairer bail and sentencing rules bump up against growing public concern about increases in post-pandemic crime and violence.

The botched exit from Afghanistan and the Russian invasion of Ukraine add to voter unease. Renewed talk of using nuclear weapons ratchets up the anxiety.

In a recent analysis, the University of Virginia Center for Politics updated its outlook for 11 congressional races, all in favor of Republicans. Though the Courtney and Hayes races were not among them, the alarm bells could not be louder for Democrats.

As noted in my last column, Democrats missed an opportunity to pass popular proposals, such as helping American families gain affordable access to childcare and Pre-K schooling, enacting a national family leave policy, and lowering drug prices. Progressives would not, or could not, bend far enough to find compromise with Sen. Joe Manchin, D-West Virginia.

Getting this legislation passed individually, as opposed to a massive package, could improve the party’s congressional prospects. However, time is quickly running out.

Unless there is a dramatic shift, the question is not whether Democrats will lose control of Congress, it is how bad will the beatdown be. A solid majority for Republicans in one or both chambers will make life exceedingly difficult for President Biden. Biden may have to declare he will not seek re-election.

I suspect that after the 2022 election, Democrats will have to do some soul searching as to how they can bridge their intra-party differences to better align their policies, and their messaging, with the voting public.

Paul Choiniere is the former editorial page editor of The Day, now retired. Reach him at


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