Rep. Chris Murphy (D)
Connecticut 5th District
Over the years, Connecticut’s stony soil has become home to some of the most affluent people in the nation and the world. This is true even in the hills of northwest Connecticut, off the interstates and far from Connecticut’s small urban capital of Hartford and its sometime booming edge city of Stamford. In Litchfield County are exquisite Yankee towns like Washington and Kent, which were prosperous in the post-Revolutionary era, when Connecticut’s shipowners accumulated capital and invested it in factories and mills, and now are considered the “anti-Hamptons,” a country-home mecca for ultrarich New Yorkers seeking to avoid the glitz of Southampton and East Hampton. Not far away are small industrial cities like New Britain, America’s ball-bearing capital for years; Meriden, which turned from making ivory combs, clocks, cutlery, and silver to producing electrical signaling equipment, biotech filters, and nuclear instruments; and Waterbury, once the nation’s largest producer of brass, where political corruption and economic malaise resulted in the state taking over its finances in 2001. Danbury, once the nation’s leading producer of hats, is now a growing corporate headquarters with an eclectic mix of recent immigrants from South America, the Caribbean and Southeast Asia. Over the hills from Hartford are Avon and Simsbury, booming towns that have become comfortable bedroom communities and home to champion international ice-skaters.
2008 Presidential Vote
|Cook Partisan Voting Index|
The 5th Congressional District of Connecticut covers much of the western side of the state, dipping down to include the northern towns of Fairfield County. It has two arms that reach into the hills of central Connecticut—one to Democratic Meriden and the other to the affluent and Republican-leaning Farmington Valley suburbs of Hartford. This district was carefully drawn by a bipartisan redistricting commission to provide a “fair fight” between two incumbents forced into the same district after Connecticut lost a House seat in the 2000 census. Until recently, small towns like Kent and Salisbury in Litchfield County were dominated by Republicans, but the influx of newcomers has altered voting patterns. In 2006, the district recorded 17,000 new registered voters; 48% of them were unaffiliated, 34% were Democrats and 17% were Republicans. Barack Obama won this district by 45,056 votes; George W. Bush lost it in 2004 by only 1,112 votes.
Rep. Chris Murphy (D)
Elected: 2006, 2nd term.
Born: Aug. 3, 1973, White Plains, NY .
Education: Attended Exeter College (England), 1994-95; Williams Col., B.A. 1996; U. of CT, J.D. 2002.
Family: Married (Cathy Holahan); 1 child.
Elected office: CT House of Reps., 1998-2002; CT Senate, 2002-06.
Professional Career: Southington zoning commission, 1997-99; Practicing atty., 2002-06.
The congressman from the 5th District is Chris Murphy, a Democrat elected in 2006. Murphy grew up in Wethersfield, and his father is a prominent member of a Hartford law firm. He graduated from Williams College in 1996 and the same year, at age 22, became the campaign manager for Democrat Charlotte Koskoff, who came 1,587 votes short of ousting veteran Republican Rep. Nancy Johnson. The lessons of that campaign would serve Murphy well in his political career. He won a seat in the state House in 1998, got a law degree in 2002 and later that year won election to the state Senate. He served as co-chairman of the public health committee, where he worked to curb hospital collection practices, ban smoking in workplaces, and increase investment in embryonic-stem-cell research.
|Chris Murphy (D-WF)||179,327||(59%)||($3,056,641)|
|David Cappiello (R)||117,914||(39%)||($1,330,995)|
|Chris Murphy (D)||Unopposed|
Prior Winning Percentages: 2006 (54%)
In early 2005 Murphy moved into Johnson’s 5th District, announcing in April that he planned to challenge her. He was backed by the Democratic establishment and faced no primary opposition. Unlike Connecticut’s other two competitive congressional races in 2006, this one did not revolve around the Iraq War and President Bush. Much of the debate focused instead on the Medicare prescription-drug benefit that moderate Republican Johnson had helped design in 2003 as chairwoman of the House Ways and Means Health Subcommittee. The liberal group MoveOn.org ran ads in April 2006 tying Johnson to disgraced former GOP lobbyist Jack Abramoff and to the oil and pharmaceutical industries, spots designed to elevate the competitiveness of what was then viewed as a second-tier race.
Murphy contended that the Republicans’ prescription drug program’s enrollment deadlines penalized seniors, and he spotlighted drug industry contributions to Johnson to portray her as a shill for the industry. National security issues did not play a major role in the race until the day after the fifth anniversary of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. In a television ad resembling a movie trailer for an espionage thriller, Johnson attacked Murphy for opposing the Bush administration’s warrantless wiretapping program. The 30-second spot, which featured a series of rapid images, suggested that seeking a court warrant for surveillance takes too long and could jeopardize national security. The security focus briefly put Murphy on the defensive, and some Democrats feared Murphy was too slow to respond. But he struck back with an ad that implied Johnson was slow to help a mother obtain health coverage to pay for surgery to fix her infant’s cleft palate. In October, Johnson used an ad to accuse Murphy of voting to raise taxes 27 times and for being weak on terrorism and soft on drug dealers. But all the negative campaigning may have undermined Johnson’s image as a cool-headed, seasoned legislator with a grandmotherly air. Johnson, who collected over $1.2 million from the health care industry alone, outspent Murphy $5 million to $2.5 million. But Murphy won 54%-44%.
In the House, Murphy has established a centrist voting record among Democrats. On the Financial Services Committee, he added an amendment to a mortgage-overhaul bill that restricted “backdoor payments” to mortgage brokers that were often passed along to unwitting borrowers. He took the lead in organizing freshman Democrats for ethics reform, especially the creation of an outside commission to review ethics complaints against House members. Although his proposal failed, the House did create an Office of Congressional Ethics, with independent investigators. In April 2008, the House passed his Government Contractor Accountability Act, requiring disclosure of the names and salaries of top officers of large companies that made most of their money from contracts with the government. “If there are people out there making millions off of governments, we should know about it,” he said. In 2009, he won a seat on the influential Energy and Commerce Committee, where he was positioned to work on health care issues, a primary focus of the committee and its chairman, Henry Waxman of California.
The National Republican Congressional Committee initially saw an opportunity when State Sen. David Cappiello challenged Murphy in 2008. Cappiello ran as a John McCain-style maverick, and he criticized the hundreds of thousands of campaign dollars given to Murphy by finance firms as well as his support for the 2008 bailout of financial markets. “Did Chris Murphy shake up Washington, or shake down Wall Street?” he asked in a closing ad. Murphy emphasized the need for sweeping policy change, including a reworking of tax and trade policies that had led to the financial crisis. National party interest waned in the closing weeks as Cappiello failed to gain traction, and Murphy won 59%-39%.