Rep. Joe Courtney (D)
Elected: 2006, 2nd term.
Born: April 6, 1953, Hartford .
Education: Tufts U., B.A. 1975, U. of CT, J.D. 1978.
Family: Married (Audrey); 2 children.
Elected office: CT House of Reps., 1986-94.
Professional Career: Practicing atty., 1978-2006; CT coordinator, John Edwards pres. campaign, 2004.
The congressman from the 2nd District is Joe Courtney, a Democrat elected in 2006. Courtney was raised in West Hartford, the youngest of five boys. He studied at Tufts University, graduated from the University of Connecticut law school and went into private practice. In 1986, he won the first of four terms in the state House, where he served as chairman of the public health and human services committees. He ran unsuccessfully for lieutenant governor in 1998, and then unsuccessfully against Republican Rep. Rob Simmons in 2002. Simmons, who earned two Bronze Stars in Vietnam and later served as a CIA operations officer, had defeated 20-year Democratic Rep. Sam Gejdenson two years earlier. Courtney ran on the Democratic themes of Social Security restructuring, better prescription drug coverage for seniors and opposition to President Bush’s tax cuts. The environmental group Friends of the Earth gave Simmons a boost, saying that he had the most pro-environment record of the freshmen Republicans. Courtney gained ground late in the 2002 campaign, but Simmons won 54%-46%. Courtney stepped aside for Democrat Jim Sullivan to take on Simmons in 2004, but Sullivan lost by the same 54%-46% score.
|Joe Courtney (D-WF)||212,148||(66%)||($1,792,920)|
|Sean Sullivan (R)||104,574||(32%)||($395,207)|
|Joe Courtney (D)||Unopposed|
Prior Winning Percentages: 2006 (50%)
Courtney came back for a rematch with Simmons in 2006, getting his campaign under way early in 2005. Economic uncertainty abounded locally after the Pentagon named the district’s submarine base as a candidate for closure. From his seat on the Armed Services Committee, Simmons lobbied the Pentagon hard to keep the base open and held hearings on the need for more submarines. In August 2005, the base-closing commission recommended that the base remain open, which boded well for Simmons’s re-election chances. Democrats worked diligently to nationalize the race by exploiting voter anger over the Iraq War and GOP ethics scandals in Congress. Simmons was attacked for donating $1,000 to the legal defense fund for Republican leader Tom DeLay, who was caught up in dual ethics and fundraising investigations. After DeLay left Congress in disgrace, Democrats sought to tether Simmons to the increasingly unpopular Republican president. Courtney called Simmons Bush’s “No. 1 supporter in Connecticut,” and his television ads portrayed Simmons as aligned with Bush on energy policy, Medicare prescription drug coverage and the war. Simmons touted his independence by pointing to votes he took on partial-birth abortion and same-sex marriage in opposition to the administration’s positions, and he criticized Courtney for supporting higher gasoline taxes as a state legislator.
More than 242,000 voters turned out on Election Day, which was 25,000 more than in 2002. Courtney won towns like Old Lyme that he had lost four years earlier, and he posted larger margins in Mansfield, Norwich, New London and Vernon. Simmons did well in smaller towns in Windham County. When the results came in, Courtney held a slim 167-vote lead, a margin that was small enough to trigger an automatic recount. A week later, Courtney’s lead was cut in half, but official results gave him a winning margin of 83 votes out of the more than 242,000 cast and made him the survivor of the closest House race of the 2006 elections. The voters in the 2nd District seem to like exciting elections. Gejdenson won re-election in 1994 by just 21 votes.
In the House, Courtney’s new colleagues gave him a nickname, “Landslide Joe.” But he also got a seat on the prestigious Armed Services Committee, where he could more effectively lobby for more money for the Navy’s shipbuilding program at Groton. In 2007, he worked with other Connecticut and Rhode Island lawmakers to successfully secure an extra $588 million in the Defense appropriations bill for submarines, paving the way for the Navy to double its submarine production from one a year to two a year. Democratic leaders were eager to help the rookie representative secure his hold on the district. Courtney was able to get Armed Services Chairman Ike Skelton, D-Mo., and Defense Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman John Murtha, D-Pa., to visit the district, and both of the powerful chairmen backed improvements at Electric Boat. In 2008, Courtney won enactment of a bill giving environmental protection to 25 miles of the Eightmile River, bringing it under the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act. He was the only member of the Connecticut delegation who voted against the $700 billion bailout for financial firms on Wall Street, which he said focused too much on “a square mile of New York City.” In a 2007 profile, the Washington Post Sunday magazine depicted Courtney as “an Irish fatalist” hustling to keep his seat and hoping to show that delivering more money for Electric Boat would show that he “had acquired savvy and clout in a hurry.”
In 2008, Republicans initially touted Sean Sullivan, former commander of the Groton submarine base, in what they said would be a competitive contest. Sullivan called for alternative energy sources, criticized Courtney for supporting tax increases and said that Courtney was a lockstep loyalist for Democratic leaders. Courtney cited his accomplishments and said that voters had elected him to “stand up to Bush’s policies.” He ran strongly across the district and won 66%-32%, establishing a firm grip on this formerly competitive seat.