Monday, March 06, 2006

Successful Congressional Challengers: Part Two

This is a continuation of yesterday’s story about congressional incumbents being defeated by challengers.

James H. Maloney (D) vs. Gary Franks (R) – 1996

If a challenger unseating a congressional incumbent is rare, a two-time challenger unseating an incumbent is almost unheard of. Charlotte Koskoff, Ed Munster and many others know this. Once in a while, though, the impossible happens.

Former State Senator James H. Maloney had survived a contentious primary to win the Democratic nomination in the Waterbury-centered 5th District in 1994, but had lost to Republican incumbent Gary Franks by a few percentage points. In 1996 he returned, and captured the nomination without a primary. With the Democratic Party united behind him, he was free to go on the attack against Franks.

Franks, on the other hand, was an extremely divisive and prickly figure. He had been elected to the seat in 1990, succeeding Rep. John G. Rowland, who was running for governor. Franks was the first black Republican to be elected to Congress in fifty years, but his stands against liberalism and affirmative action drew the ire of the Congressional Black Caucus. Democrat William Clay, who had tried to block Franks’ entry into the caucus, accused him of being something of an Uncle Tom:

…Fellow black House member William L. Clay (D-Mo.) ripped into Franks (R-Conn.) for promoting a "foot-shuffling, head-scratching `Amos and Andy' brand of `Uncle Tomism,' " and damned him as a "Negro Dr. Kevorkian" who "gleefully assists in suicidal conduct to destroy his own race."

"It's a dispute I have with black people who have sold their race out," said Clay, a liberal from St. Louis. He lumped Franks, a suburban moderate, together with black conservatives like Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, whom he described as "a snake." (Gugliotta)

Franks also made enemies on the Republican side:

He also annoyed powerful allies, once calling House Speaker Newt Gingrich a liar after a parliamentary dispute, alleging in a controversial book that Rowland committed election-law improprieties, and talking openly about running for the Senate in 1998 -- before Tuesday's election was even over. (McIntire)

Election law impropreties? Rowland? Never. Still, an October poll showed Franks 19 points ahead of Maloney—at which point the National Republican Congressional Committee shut down some of his funding.

Maloney clawed his way back into the race, with the help of organizations like the AFL-CIO and Ralph Nader’s Public Citizen, which poured millions into anti-Franks “issue ads” (Noel). Maloney’s campaign also aired negative ads, including one which portrayed Franks as a slumlord owning rat-infested buildings. Franks, for some reason, was slow to respond to the many attacks against him.

One factor that can’t be ignored in the race is Bill Clinton’s strong showing in Connecticut, which, combined with all of these other factors, resulted in a Maloney victory. After the election, Franks railed against all those who he felt had let him down—not once pointing the finger at himself.


McIntire, Mike and Michael Remez. “Franks Blames GOP, Liberals, Labor and Rat Ads for his Loss.” Hartford Courant Nov 7, 1996.

Noel, Don. “Costly ‘Issue Ads’ Tilt the 5th District Playing Field.” Hartford Courant. Oct 4, 1996.

Gugliotta, Guy. “Defeated Rep. Franks Accused of `Uncle Tomism’.” The Washington Post Nov 21, 1996.

Rob Simmons (R) vs. Sam Gejdenson (D) – 2000

Rep. Sam Gejdenson was no stranger to tough races. First elected to Congress in 1980, he never seemed to have a comfortable margin of victory. He had survived especially close shaves against the hilariously-named Ed Munster during the 1990s—including one race that came down to only a handful of votes. Gejdenson was an excellent fundraiser and a strong campaigner.

His toughest challenge came in the form of State Rep. Rob Simmons (R-Stonington), a former CIA officer whose no-holds-barred style of campaigning would be Gejdenson’s undoing in 2000.

Simmons started out at a serious disadvantage. Early polls showed him trailing by 28 points, and his fundraising always lagged behind Gejdenson’s. Simmons, a tenacious fighter by nature, took the fight to Gejdenson and closed the gap. His contention that Gejdenson actually lived outside the district struck a nerve with 2nd District voters:

Television ads played a key role in the campaign. Against the advice of Washington consultants, Simmons aired an ad in September that introduced him to voters. At the time, Simmons trailed Gejdenson by 28 percentage points according to internal GOP polls.

A poll taken after the commercial ran showed Simmons had closed the gap by 11 points. His new standing was enough for him to convince his supporters to give him the financial support he needed to run more ads.

He followed with a commercial showing an ornate iron gate swinging shut as an announcer accused Gejdenson of living outside the district, in Branford, where his wife owns a shoreline home. (Dee)

In the end, it was Simmons’s contention that Gejdenson had lost touch with his constituents that finally put the longtime congressman away.

Asked to name the biggest change in Gejdenson in 20 years, U.S. Sen. Christopher J. Dodd replied: "His hair."

It was meant as a compliment, the idea that Gejdenson could remain true to his beliefs, even as the country grew more conservative. But it also had a second meaning: Gejdenson in recent years stopped letting his hair fall across his forehead. He began brushing it back, a trivial matter that voters actually seized on during the campaign.
Sam had become slick.

The jibe resonated, perhaps, because of the humble image Gejdenson had when he was elected at age 26 to the state legislature in 1974, the post-Watergate election. Unable to afford a car, he used to regularly hitchhike to the state Capitol. (Pazniokas)

Gejdenson attacked Simmons in turn, but voters, apparently, were finally ready for a change. Gejdenson lost 51%-49%: a narrow loss in a year of close races.


Dee, Jane. “Simmons Ousts Gejdenson in Bitterly Contested Race.” Hartford Courant Nov 8, 2000.

Pazniokas, Mark. “The Rise and Fall of “Just Sam:” Gejdenson’s Long Incumbency Defied Laws of Politics.” Hartford Courant Nov 12, 2000.


Gejdenson, Franks, Ratchford and DeNardis all had one thing in common: they never saw it coming. Each man felt a certain complacency, although of all of the candidates perhaps Gejdenson felt it least, since his district was such a contentious one.

Each challenger, from Morrison and Rowland to Maloney and Simmons, fought intense, tough, relentless campaigns against their opponents. None of them were particularly afraid to go negative and expose the faults—real or perceived—of the incumbent.

How will Chris Murphy, Diane Farrell and Joe Courtney run their campaigns this year? Will they be like the successful challengers have been? Will they always be on the offensive, always on the move, finding the weaknesses of their opponents? Or will we see yet another year in which all incumbents are safe?

Of perhaps more importance is the mood of the voters. Will this actually be a Democratic year? Or will it be an anti-incumbent year? People are fed up with the GOP, but they have yet to embrace the formless, unispiring Democrats. Maybe the rallying cry this year will be “Kick the bums out!” If that’s the case, Shays, Johnson and Simmons ought to start worrying.

No matter what, it ought to be great fun to watch. Connecticut, as illustrated above, does have a history of contentious, interesting congressional races. This year ought to be no different.


jeremy kincaid said...

Just a Reminder...
Wednesday, March 8, 7:30 p.m.
Democracy for America, Litchfield County
Guests: Ned Lamont, Dem Senatorial Candidate & Represenatives from Sen Joe Lieberman’s office will make presentations
Location: Dos Amigos Restaurant, 910 E. Main St., Torrington

Anonymous said...

GC... great job on the history and the analysis. Very impressive.

Husky00 said...

Genghis --

Great pieces. Would be nice if some of the local papers had thoughtful coverage like this now and then.

I agree that the challengers who get out there and hit the incumbents pro-actively will have the best chance to take advantage of the current national mood. I live in East Hartford so I see a little from Murphy and a little from Courtney, but not much from Farrell (I assume because she is far away) so I can't judge her campaign. For the other two, they seem to be getting out there. I see a little more activism from the Murphy people (and they seem to get all the play in the blog comments), but the NY Times said today that Courtney is considered one of the 10 best shots to win in the whole country.

disgruntled_republican said...


The NY Times also said he would win the first time and picked Sullivan to win 2 years ago. I always worry about Rob but it should be known he has never been picked to win because the 2nd is OVERWHELMINGLY Dems...what the Times doesn't realize is what free thinkers the 2nd's voters are.

Sullivan tried to tie Simmons to DeLay and Bush 2 years ago and it didnt stick...I am sure Joe will try it this time but I think it has a worse chance sticking now then it did in 04.

I like Joe too but let me say that ROb has done his job. He works his tail off and is everywhere all the time. He has delivered millions of dollars to various towns and above all he was a key part of saving the sub base.

So, let the papers say what they want, when it comes down to it, in my opinion, the unpredictable voters of the 2nd dist will re-elect Congressman Simmons

Proud Moderate Dem said...

GC, faboulous job breaking everything down, thanks for the service. it was great to see such an original post

ctblogger said...


Great post. To add on the Franks piece, many people in the fith district blamed Lynn Tamborsak (sp?) for splitting the Democratic votes in Danbury which helped Franks win the 5th back in 1990.

As for losing his re-eleciton, Franks has no one to blame but himself...too bad he still doesn't understand this.

Anonymous said...

Dear Jeremy Kincaid:

Why does DFA allow a " lieberman representative" to this meeting in which you have with Candidate LaMont?

It seems to me that you folks shouldnt let the representative at the meeting and insist that Lieberman be there to present his views and beliefs...I vote for a candidate not a representative....anything less is a slight on the wonder DFA isnt growing....

Keep settling for a representative and not the candidate and you will have no idea where the candidate stands....Lieberman ought to be confronted on his votes...your letting him off the hook doesnt help.

Frankly, i wouldnt go unless both candidates are invited and i for one will not accept a representative and i am very disappointed in DFA

dan levine said...

great work genghis

Anonymous said...


Any mention of the 1996 5th District race has to focus first and last on the infamous "Rat Ad"

Once Maloney called Franks a greedy slumlord, his numbers plummetted.

Maloney's own staff admitted in "Campiagns & Elections" they decided mid race that running against someone in the 5th for being conservative would fail, so they switched to the low road

For all those Dems whi think only Republicans use brass knuckles, let me present Jim Maloney

Anonymous said...

Unlike the 1996 "Rat Ad", the 2006 Democratic campaign against Simmons starts by making accusations that are flat out false

Robo-caller thrives amid talk of change
By Elana Schor

As the Senate today begins debating proposed disclosure requirements for grassroots lobbying activity, a Democratic-leaning grassroots lobbying firm is helping to hit as many as 20 House Republicans with prerecorded, in-district phone calls attacking their records on port security.

Simmons has long crusaded against the national do-not-call registry’s exemption for political robo calls, sponsoring three bills that would crack down on prerecorded messages from AFV and other groups. Stealing a page from Lux’s playbook, Simmons’s office urged constituents to call AFV and complain about the calls.

“For the past two years, stealthy partisan organizations led by American Family Voices have used robo calls to bother, harass and annoy while disseminating false information about me and my voting record,” said Simmons, who is also co-sponsoring the King port-security legislation.

Simmons's true position on the Dubai port deal,0,5048761.story?coll=hc-headlines-politics

"I'm fed up with the outsourcing of our industry, the outsourcing of port management - I'm fed up with all of this outsourcing," said Rep. Rob Simmons, R-2nd District, after hearing one of the Capitol Hill briefings Thursday by Cabinet officials scrambling to calm already-jittery members of Congress."

Genghis Conn said...

I get at least one or two of those robocalls per week. They are amazingly poor in quality.

Anonymous said...

I complained to one of the campaigns about those stupid calls, and they told me they can't do anything about it because they are done by some group they have nothing to do with. Are they all by this "AFV" group?

Anonymous said...

GC, how much did Benedict's book and casino backlash cost Sam in 2000?

Is that why unlike Maloney, Rowland and Morrison Simmons did not need a big tide his party's way in CT in 2000

Anonymous said...

Simmons won because he ran a dirty, dirty campaign funded by the Republicans and a bunch of front groups.

Simmons is fast to critize the Robo-calls, except when it's him and the Republicans doing them. He used this horrible negative, deceptive tactics in '00, '02 & '04 that helped him win. You better believe that he'll be doing the same thing again this year, except he WON'T win. Look at the article below.

Just a bit of hypocrisy in Simmons' attitude regarding robo calls
By Ray Hackett, Norwich Bulletin

Congressman Rob Simmons wants to share a phone number with his constituents in the 2nd Congressional District, and he's urging people to call it: (202) 393-4352.

The number belongs to "American Family Voices," the group behind the recent rash of the so-called robo calls -- automated phone messages -- that have flooded homes in Eastern Connecticut, urging residents to call Simmons' office and tell him they don't like his position against federal funding for port security.

Simmons has, in the past, claimed these calls have caused a major disruption of his staff's ability to do its work as hundreds of constituents have called to complain about receiving the unwanted automated messages. So his solution to the problem is ask residents to call "American Family Voices" -- and tell them to knock it off.

According to Simmons -- and these are his words -- American Family Voices is "notorious," "a shadowy, partisan" organization using "these sleazy and deceptive" calls to distort his voting record.

I don't recall the congressman being as equally outraged back in 2002 when another organization -- United Seniors -- flooded the homes of Eastern Connecticut with automated calls asking residents to call the congressman and "thank him" for passing a prescription-drug bill for seniors.

I guess all those thank-you calls weren't as disruptive to the congressman's staff. Or maybe there weren't that many calls because Congress never did pass a prescription drug bill for seniors in 2002.

United Seniors also ran a slew of television commercials that year thanking the congressman for passing the legislation. Art Linkletter was the spokesman. Yes, the same Art Linkletter that Attorney General Richard Blumenthal sued for another series of TV ads the attorney general thought were "deceptive."

But I actually agree with the congressman on this point.

The robo calls are annoying and I think we should all pick up our phones and call the groups behind them and let them know how it feels to be bombarded with unwanted calls.

Who could forget those annoying "Laura" phone calls from the 2002 campaign that attacked the integrity of Simmons' Democratic challenger, Joe Courtney. Talk about sleazy.

I remember sitting with the congressman in his campaign office in Mystic where he conceded how deplorable he thought they were, and then threw up his hands and said, "but there's nothing I can do about them."

I think Simmons is onto something now. His idea of calling those responsible is a good one. So in the spirit of putting an end to this kind of campaign tactic, let me share a phone number with him: (202) 479-7000. The congressman might recognize it.

That's the number of the National Republican Congressional Campaign, an organization of which he is a member, and the group responsible for the "Laura" calls.

I pass this along so the congressman can share it with constituents later this year when the National Republican Campaign Committee gets its phone banks up and running.


Anonymous said...

looks like whine is a big seller at Democrat parties

Anonymous said...

It's a little ironic that Simmons is the one who is complaining about the Robo-calls when it was him, the Republicans and a bunch of front groups that bombarded the district with those calls in '00, '02 & '04.

"The robo calls are annoying and I think we should all pick up our phones and call the groups behind them and let them know how it feels to be bombarded with unwanted calls.

Who could forget those annoying "Laura" phone calls from the 2002 campaign that attacked the integrity of Simmons' Democratic challenger, Joe Courtney. Talk about sleazy.

I remember sitting with the congressman in his campaign office in Mystic where he conceded how deplorable he thought they were, and then threw up his hands and said, "but there's nothing I can do about them."

I think Simmons is onto something now. His idea of calling those responsible is a good one. So in the spirit of putting an end to this kind of campaign tactic, let me share a phone number with him: (202) 479-7000. The congressman might recognize it.

That's the number of the National Republican Congressional Campaign, an organization of which he is a member, and the group responsible for the "Laura" calls."

Hackett, Norwich Bulletin, March 5, 2006

disgruntled_republican said...

To anon 10:56 -

It is in fact ILLEGAL for the Congressman to approach ANY GROUP including the NRCC or any 527 and make any requests or demands as to what they do or don't do in his campaign. But perhaps that is what you would like is for the sitting Congressman to breeak the law.

A quick look back will show that Simmons indeed is opposed to robocalls and HIS CAMPAIGN will not be utilizing robocalls in this year's election.

Anonymous said...

is the Hackett at the Bulletin related to the Democrat politician in Ohio, sure seems like it

Anonymous said...

GC, What about Senate 8? Anon.

Anonymous said...

GC, What about Senate 8? Anon.