Sunday, November 27, 2005

How Red is My Blue State?

"Connecticut Democrats aren't a party. They're a collection of individuals who, by coincidence, share a ballot line."
--Michelle Jacklin, 2002

I keep hearing that Connecticut is a "blue state," meaning that it is one of the more liberal states, and therefore a state that favors the Democratic Party.

I've been wondering whether this is actually so.

Compared to the rest of the country, Connecticut is quite liberal. We have, among other things, laws on the books granting civil unions to gay couples and allowing women to have abortions, should Roe v. Wade be overturned. We promote stem cell research while ignoring the dire warnings of Connecticut's arm of Focus on the Family, the Family Institute of Connecticut. We disapprove of native son George W. Bush, who wandered a little too far west and south for our tastes, and of the national Republican Party in general. Connecticut was a theocracy once: we have no intention of becoming one again.

As for favoring Democrats, that's a different story.

It's easy to pigeonhole Connecticut from the national point of view. The state has voted for Democrats for president since 1992, and both of its senators have been Democrats since 1988. The General Assembly has been entirely controlled by Democrats since 1998, when Democrats recaptured the Senate. The first and third congressional districts are among the most solid in the country for Democrats.

But scratch the Democratic surface, and you'll find a deep Republican past. If you're looking for the Party of Lincoln, this is where it came to die. Lowell Weicker was perhaps its last true representative. The antislavery forces that gave birth to the Republican Party in the 1850s were strongest in pious, egalitarian New England, and the state continued to support Republican candidates through the rest of the 19th and 20th Century. Connecticut has voted for Teddy Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, Warren Harding, Calvin Coolidge, Herbert Hoover (twice), Dwight Eisenhower, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush.

To give an example of just how Republican the state was--in 1932, only six states failed to vote for FDR. Connecticut was one of them. It's no surprise that the Republican answer to the Kennedys, the Bushes, came out of Greenwich.

The vast majority of Connecticut governors from 1855 on have been Republicans (33 to 15, with one independent), and the legislature was consistently held by that party up until constitutional changes in the 1960s. Currently, our governor is a Republican and three of the five congressional seats are held by Republicans. A look at the "top offices" map for the most recent municipal election will show a state with almost as much red as blue. A look at the map of the 2002 governor's race will give Democrats a heart attack.

Connecticut Republicans have often followed the old northeastern line of pragmatic fiscal conservatism matched with a grudging social tolerance. If they have failed in recent years, it's because the national party has gone in the opposite direction and the state party has fallen to pieces.

Connecticut Republicans suffer from a terrible identity crisis. How do they follow the national GOP without losing support at home? Successful Republicans like Shays, Johnson, Simmons and Rell have figured it out: don't follow the national party. By and large, Connecticut voters seem to support fiscal prudence and social tolerance. Add electoral reform to this, and a winning combination emerges. Governor Rell seems thrifty, while at the same time supporting minimum-wage increases, civil unions and campaign finance reform. Her approval rating is astronomical. There is a lesson here.

So what does this mean? It explains how Connecticut, thought to be so blue, can keep returning Republicans to Congress and the Governor's Mansion. It also suggests that Republicans need only to reorganize and return to their roots in order to regain meaningful power. Lost in the massive Democratic gains of the past four years, but all-too-apparent from their inability to pass campaign finance reform, is the collapse of the state Democratic Party. The Democrats have gone from the disciplined machine of the 1960s and 1970s to a disorganized mess of conflcting interests and people who just happen to put a "D" after their names.

At the moment, neither party stands for anything clear. They both have let the national parties define them. If state Republicans suddenly jumped into sharp focus, Democrats would be at a loss. The 44% of Connecticut voters who are affiliated with neither party might, for the first time in a decade, swing back toward the right. Seven seats flip the Senate. It isn't terribly likely, but it's possible.

National winds are blowing Democratic for next year. Connecticut's winds may be blowing in the opposite direction. It wouldn't be the first time.


stomv said...

Connecticut Republicans have often followed the old northeastern line of pragmatic fiscal conservatism matched with a grudging social tolerance. If they have failed in recent years, it's because the national party has gone in the opposite direction and the state party has fallen to pieces.

Ding ding ding.

The reality is that unless Connecticut's hispanic population (a) grows, (b) becomes citizens, (c) registers to vote, and (d) votes, *OR* unless Hartford and New Haven develop a serious population surge, Connecticut will remain up for grabs.

We Nutmeggers demand low taxes and for the government to leave us the heck alone with our social standing. Whichever party does more of that gets our vote.

So long as the GOP is swinging religiously, the state GOP must buck the trend. So long as the Dems want to spend money on those less fortunate, Connecticutians will continue to support their 3 GOP House o' Reps.

In the mean time, if a third party -- closer to the Rockefeller Republicans -- were to crop up, they'd take over for the red regions in Eastern PA, NJ, and up toward Maine. As a Dem, I think that'd be swell -- the GOP would lose more than the Dems, and it would either split the GOP or render them less powerful. Either way, that'd be just fine by me.

Anonymous said...

If Rudy or McCain are the 2008 nominee, CT could get very interesting very quickly

Genghis Conn said...

Remember the 2000 GOP primary? There was a massive upswing in Republican registrations in the months leading up to it. John McCain won that primary because so many independents registered Republican to vote for him. If he had been the nominee, Connecticut would have been in play.

CGG said...

This is a nice analysis.

DeanFan84 said...

Incredible to me that you give Rell credit for Civil Unions and Minimum Wage increases. The Republicans were against these things, Rell just didn't have the balls to veto them. I'm curious why you think her "support" of these issues is going to stead her well next November. My guess is that Democrats will use her ambivalence to wedge Rell's base.

If New England Congressional Republicans wanted to divorce themselves from the hate-filled politics of the national G.O.P, they would have formed into a splinter group that occasionally voted with the Dems,(and against Delay and Denny Hastert). That hasn't happened. Based on exactly what votes do you say that Shays, Simmons and Johnson haven't followed Party Leadership? Someone else here can dig up the stats, but the trio is voting the Party line now more than ever.

In the wake of George Bush's incredible popularity, and with the last Republican governor now in jail, and most people ashamed to call themselves GOP'ers, it's puzzling to me how you can predict a counter-swing next year. State Republicans might re-take the CT Senate? Dream on!

Dave said...

Shays , Simmons and Johnson all pressured the President to rescind the exec order eliminating prevailing wage for Katrina reconstruction and Simmons and Shays are both active in the Republican Labor Caucus, a group of 37 Republicans,mostly from the northeast that have kept the most virulent anti worker legislation from going anywhere in the house. Simmons and Shays have also wandered from the leadership on other votes. They are more in the role of the "Rockefeller" republican than they are given credit for. But the way that the Congress is set up, at some point for them to get some of the concessions from leadership that they need to be effective, they have to go with the flow

DemNow said...

Genghis-- great analysis! I believe that CT is actually what Barak Obama calls a "purple state". We are generally fiscally conservative and socially liberal-- the perfect DNC state for guys like Joe Lieberman!

This means that GOP candidates can be successful here if they follow the DNC line....our Governor and 3 Rep congressmen fit this bill. If the GOP as a party could get their act together, I believe they could be competitive in the legislature as well. However, this will not happen in 2006.

So let's not take this state for granted! McCain could win here in 2008.

DeanFan-- our CT Republican Reps tend to vote with the President about 70% of the time (at least that's the stat from 2003). They are definitely Republicans, but you can't say they vote in lock-step with the President. This is why Diane Farrell failed in the Fourth last time....Chris Shays is not Tom Delay, and there is no way voters will buy that he is.

My prediction for CT right now is -- status quo in 2006. Simmons is safe because of the sub base, and I don't see Farrell picking off Shays unless he screws up. Governors race doesn't look competitive to me yet (although this could change if DeStefano or Malloy can put together a coherent message).

Genghis Conn said...

Perception, DeanFan. Simmons, Shays and Johnson are all perceived as moderates or mavericks. They work hard to cultivate this image, and by and large they are successful. Last year, Sullivan tried tarring Simmons by comparing him to Bush. The 2nd District overwhelmingly voted for Kerry, but re-elected Simmons. Perception matters for Rell, too. She probably held her nose as she signed the minimum wage increase, but she did it and she will absolutely take credit for it (especially since Democrats aren't). Just watch.

Anonymous said...

I would also note that the entire Dem 2006 strategy seems to be to tie the GOP to the war in Iraq, which may be of use against congressional candidates, but completely irrelevant to GOP governor and legislative candidates

DeanFan84 said...

Logging on this morning I am still chuckling at the suggestion CT could be trending Republican. On what evidence do you make that assertion?

Certainly the politics of hate and division, (with the "Family" Institute of CT as a noxious example), have damaged the Republican Party in CT. This is no longer my grandfather's GOP. And I agree, things are so bad for Republicans in CT, at some point it will have to rebound. But next year?

The Radical Right, though cracked, is far from done. They will continue to play a key role at least through the 2008 Presidential cycle. Someone mentioned John McCain. Interestingly, McCain is nowhere near the same candidate he was before losing the 2000 South Carolina primary. What has he done? Sucked up to the fundamentalists, and moved away from the mainstream. While I entertained the thought of voting for him in 2000, he won't get any consideration from me in 2008.

Our Dem Congressional candidates are running on not only against the Iraq mess, but also on a "throw the bums out" anti-incumbent, anti-corruption message. Frankly, I think both Simmons and Shays are shitting bricks. Everytime they try to tout their moderate independence, they are operating out of fear, and not confidence. Chris Shays is terrified of Diane Farrell, as well he should be.

In terms of the Governor's race, I predict this. DeStefano will have a better showing than any of the three previous Dem candidates for Governor. Will he break 50%? Who knows? But I like his message of failed leadership at the top.

Finally, if Rell's big accomplishments are signing off on both Civil Unions and a raise in the minimum wage, ... well, I am LMAO.

DeanFan84 said...

Really Interesting McCain 2008 discussion overat Talking Points Memo.

"Will they give up this game for McCain? Maybe. But I don't think it will happen without a serious effort to find and unite behind someone else. After all, the K Street/Theocon alliance lifted a marginally successful governor named George W. Bush to the presidential nomination in 2000, in what became a crusade to beat John McCain by any means necessary. Just because Bush's shortcomings have become so painfully apparent is no definitive reason to believe the same people won't cast about for another reliable vehicle for their perfidious designs."

proud moderate dem said...

deanfan, i am curious how you assess things being bad for the GOP in CT when they control the gov mansion, 3 out of 5 congressional seats and now a majority of the mayor/first selectman seats. further, you ask why rell will get credit for civil unions, etc. its bc she signs our dem bills into law. thats the type of power you get when you live in the gov mansion. lets be honest. if you were to give CT as a case study from someone in the midwest and said, ok, the past repub gov resigned in shame, is in jail for corruption and his lt gov is the current gov in a state where the 4 constitutional officers are dem and has voted for the dem presidential candiadate since 92. the lt gov (and current gov) is running for re-election.which candidate would you say has a 73percent apporoval rating. the R or the D? think most people would answer the D. so i dont think the GOP in CT has it that bad. further, you assessment of saying that Destafano will do better than past Dem Gov candidates is like saying next years new york jets team will be better than this years. not exactly a high threshold to pass. if we are to succeed as a party we need to start living in and dealing with the reality of the situation, not in some kind of democratic utopia where we tell ouselves that we have the GOP on the run here in CT.

David McCluskey said...

In response to Anonymous who said." ...
I would also note that the entire Dem 2006 strategy seems to be to tie the GOP to the war in Iraq, which may be of use against congressional candidates, but completely irrelevant to GOP governor and legislative candidates.: itis NOT irrelevant if it increases overall Democratic-leaning turnout. Even though some will leave the voting booth after voting for U.S. Senate and Congress, enough may stick around and protect Dems in R leaning State House seats or defeat Rs in Dem leaning seats.