Despite U.S. Rep. Elizabeth Esty’s early lead in fundraising, the 5th District congressional race remains one of the best opportunities for Republicans to pick up a seat in Connecticut, political analysts said this week.
“If there is a district that is vulnerable it’s the 5th District,” said Vincent Moscardelli, a professor of political science at the University of Connecticut. “As a first-term incumbent, this is as vulnerable as Esty gets. And 2014 looks to be a good year for the GOP.”
Esty and fellow Democratic U.S. Rep. Jim Himes have raised more than their Republican rivals, each pulling in more than $1 million so far this election cycle. Esty raised $1.1 million compared to $325,000 raised by her opponent Mark Greenberg, much of that from a $130,000 loan to himself.
But it’s still early and the Republican party on both state and national levels is expected to take serious interest in both the 5th and Hime’s 1st District. It remains to be seen if Greenberg will face a challenge for the Republican nomination. Dr. William Petit Jr. had been asked by Republicans to enter the race and was seen as potentially formidable candidate against Esty.
But Petit, the lone survivor of a home invasion that killed his wife and two daughters in 2007, announced last week he was not entering the race.
GOP leaders wouldn’t comment specifically about Petit not running, and said they look forward to a vigorous convention.
“The committee is not seeking a candidate to primary Mark Greenberg,” said Zak Sanders, communications director for the Connecticut Republican Party. “It’s our goal to avoid primaries wherever possible. We encourage all Republicans to get involved and run for office, and we look forward to a healthy nominating process.”
Greenberg, a pro-life candidate who lost the GOP nomination in 2012, is viewed by some inside and outside the party as too conservative for the swing district. But in a low turnout election year, with President Obama’s low approval ratings, a conservative candidate might fare better.
“A Republican nominee who can stay a bit right-of-center on social issues and highlight fiscal issues and healthcare could unseat” Esty, said Scott McLean, professor of political science at Quinnipiac University. “Both parties drew the lines of the 5th intentionally to be one of a handful of swing districts in the country and will be awash in outside money from liberal and conservative organizations.”
McLean said Esty is a vulnerable incumbent who won her first term after front-runner Chris Donovan was eliminated by scandal and rode the coattails of a popular president. This year will be different, he said. But Art Paulson, who chairs the political science department at Southern Connecticut State University, disagrees.
“The power of incumbency and the fact that she has raised over $1 million already for her campaign make her nearly unbeatable in the Democratic primary, and a strong candidate for re-election,” Paulson said.
State Democratic leaders said it might be too late for anyone else to enter the race and raise the money needed, and they don’t see Greenberg as much of a challenge for Esty.
“Mark Greenberg is way too extreme for the 5th District and for the entire state,” said Elizabeth Larkin, spokeswoman for the state Democratic Party. “We think Elizabeth is a great fit for that district.”
If Esty has established enough name recognition during her first term, she’ll likely remain in Congress for several terms, just as Nancy Johnson did. But this will be her toughest race, Moscardelli said.
Christopher Healy, former GOP party chairman, said based on the endorsements Greenberg has received he would be very surprised if anyone else throws down a challenge. He also doesn’t believe Greenberg’s conservative social views will hurt him, when the economy and health care have taken center stage.
“This race will be won on economic issues,” Healy said.