When he undertook to run for Congress, it was a job that many wanted, but none – except him – believed they could have. In her twelfth term in Congress, Nancy Johnson’s base of support was appraised as impregnable, her financial advantage overwhelming, and her resume too formidable to challenge. Nearly everyone who considered the prospect concluded it was a professionally deadly undertaking. Everyone was waiting for her to retire.
And now, she will.
Chris Murphy readily acknowledged, in a Sunday morning interview with WFSB’s Al Terzi early in the cycle, that it was a monumental undertaking. He showed neither false bravado nor a morbid preoccupation with the task he had set for himself, he simply began to talk about the issues, and to build the campaign that he has clearly been thinking about since 1996 when, as the young campaign manager for Charlotte Koskoff, he nearly picked Johnson off.
But how did this happen? Reached on the set of WVIT shortly after wrapping up the evening as the NBC affiliate’s expert commentator from the Democratic side, Stamford Mayor Dannel Malloy offered this analysis:
“This is a great story of hard work and of how an incumbent who appeared to be untouchable walked into a perfectly executed campaign by Murphy.
Most particularly, her over-reaction on TV went a long way to dispel the persona that she had worked so hard to manufacture. She had spent a lot of time and energy wanting people to think that she was nice, and happy and loved everybody and was kind to everybody. And when she really over-reacted on TV – and the viciousness with which she went after Murphy – I think people came to think of her as really a mean person and an unkind person. And I think that’s why her campaign fell apart.”
One Republican source familiar with Johnson campaign manager David Boomer’s modus operandi corroborated Malloy’s take, saying that the Johnson campaign had violated one of the principles that had been part of her successful formula over the years, “They always shifted back to the positive message about five days out. They didn’t do that this time.”
Something did change about ten or twelve days ago, judging from the polls, and I asked Murphy if was there was a point at which he felt that the momentum changed; did he know at some point that things were moving in his direction? “I think that in large part it was over the last couple of weeks” he affirmed, “when people saw a very different vision on the air waves about a campaign that was talking about positive change, versus a very different vision from our opponent, and I think that may have been one of the things that turned the corner.”
Last night he high-fived and hugged and beamed his way to the microphone, his supporters and co-workers screaming their support and jostling for position near the stage. “For the rest of your lives, do not ever, ever let anyone tell you ever again, that a thing cannot be done,” was his opening line.
On a stage far from the one in Waterbury where Murphy stood, the next Speaker of the House of Representatives urged her party forward. “Tonight we have made history. Tomorrow let us make progress,” Nancy Pelosi was saying, and Chris Murphy clearly intends just that:
Let tonight be an unmistakable call to this district, to this state, that no matter the expectations, no matter the conventional wisdom, no matter the obstacles that are set in front of you, that the impossible is never impossible.
People don’t want their lives to governed by fear, they want their lives to be governed by hope. Tonight, the voters of the Fifth Congressional District cast an unmistakable vote in favor of hope.
Let’s talk about what we hope this election means tonight across this country. It means that for the millions of people around this country who are uninsured, for the millions more seniors across this country who are struggling to pay for their health care, it means that after today, things will change.
It means that if you are one of the millions of children who grow up in poverty across this state and across this nation – going to bed every night hungry and wanting – things will change.
And, it means if you are one of the thousands of brave and courageous men and women who are fighting for this country abroad under civilian leadership more interested in scoring political points than protecting this nation, it means things will change.
Tonight is our night to celebrate. But tomorrow is our day.
Afterward, between phone calls with politicians and radio broadcasters around the state, State Senator Tom Gaffey of Meriden, who gave the nominating speech at the Fifth Congressional District convention earlier this year, and introduced the next Congressman to the room last night, didn’t mince his words. “Here is a young man who took on just a Herculean task: to beat Nancy Johnson; a twenty-four year incumbent who was extremely well financed. For Chris to have this victory tonight is just incredible. And I’ll tell ya, things are gonna change in politics in this state. We took a major step today. A major step.”
Chris Murphy’s victory over Nancy Johnson defies easy description. It will be studied and talked about for many years to come, and establishes its architect and principal as one of the Democratic Party’s rising young stars nationally.
Without a doubt, the biggest news of the day in Connecticut.