Tuesday, December 27, 2005

The 1994 Election: Two Primaries, One Upset

This post is the first of three dealing with the 1994 election. I have separated this long post into three for easier consumption.

Part Two: A Wild Race to November

Part Three: Conclusions and Implications for 2006 (includes sources)


1994 was a turning point for America. That was the year that the work Nixon had begun in the dark days of the 1970s finally bore fruit, and the Republican Party rode waves of discontent into control of the House and Senate. They have yet to lose that majority at the polls (Jim Jeffords was elected a Republican, but his 2001 defection threw the Senate, briefly, to the Democrats).

1994 was also a turning point for Connecticut. The discontent with taxes and government that gripped the nation in that year produced one of the most fiercely fought and competitive gubernatorial races in our history, and narrowly elected Republican John Rowland governor.

The 1994 gubernatorial election is worth examining because we have not seen a truly competitive race since, and because it was the last race in which either party held a primary. Following Bill Curry’s defeat, Democrats put immense pressure on potential challengers to drop out in the interests of party unity. Republicans, of course, would not challenge their party’s powerful and popular incumbent.

1994, most importantly, was the start of the Rowland era, which persists to this day.

Two Primaries, One Upset

1994 began with the knowledge that independent Gov. Lowell Weicker, reviled for pushing the state income tax through the legislature, would not be a candidate. His Lt. Governor, Eunice Groark, would carry the A Connecticut Party banner in what was almost certain to be a losing effort. A scramble ensued in both of the major parties to determine who the nominees would be.

On the Republican side, former congressman John G. Rowland, who had narrowly lost to Weicker in 1990, found himself opposed by Secretary of the State Pauline Kezer. Kezer painted herself as the only one who could win a statewide race, citing the fact that “In 1990, I won my race… John Rowland did not,” (Judson). However, despite the fact that she was able to force a primary, Kezer couldn’t overcome the huge money advantage—she was outraised 8-1—Rowland had built (Judson). Rowland easily defeated her 68-32.

The Democratic situation was a lot more muddled. Front-runner John Larson, the leader of the State Senate, was opposed by three other Democrats: Comptroller Bill Curry, House Speaker Richard Balducci of Newington and Mayor Joseph Ganim of Bridgeport. Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, considered a favorite, bowed out of the race early—defining his own pattern for the next eleven years (Judson). Balducci and Ganim dropped out of the race before the convention, setting up a primary between Larson and Curry.

Larson, who controlled far more delegates at the convention than Curry, expected to win just as easily as Rowland. Curry fought tenaciously, however, despite having only two-thirds the money of Larson. Curry’s campaign portrayed Larson as an empty suit, and accused him of “sloganeering” when Larson promised to cut the income tax (Rabinovitz. “Senate”). Larson found that the support of the party establishment meant little more than photo ops, while Curry’s campaign somehow tapped into the general discontent of 1994 to oust the party favorite (Jacklin. “Curry’s”). Curry won by ten percentage points, almost 16,000 votes. His victory was a stunning blow to the once-powerful Democratic machine, and illustrated just how far it had fallen since the days of John Bailey and Ella Grasso. Larson, to be fair, was not an impressive candidate, even compared to Bill Curry, and his strategy of a media blitz while Curry’s campaign worked at the grassroots level was probably the wrong way to go. Larson would return in 1998 to win the 1st District congressional seat, vacated by Barbara Kennelly for her own doomed gubernatorial run.

Part Two: A Wild Race to November

Part Three: Conclusions and Implications for 2006 (includes sources)

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