The 2nd Congressional District is an enigma. It’s huge. It’s unpredictable. It has been home to incredibly close congressional races, and also home to a few massive blowouts.
Let’s take a look at the election map from 2006.
There’s an awful lot of red, but Joe Courtney’s margin in larger towns like Enfield, and his success around UCONN, helped him over the top. One of the reasons for the unpredictability of this district, as we’ve discussed before, is the huge number of swing towns (towns that may vote either way in an election). Let’s see:
The red and blue areas shrink considerably, and the purple fills most of the map. If we take a look at towns by population, the red and blue areas actually seem to become more prominent:
So what we have here is a district with an approximate balance between towns that traditionally vote Republican, and those that vote Democratic. The purple “swing” areas are about the size of both of the red and blue areas put together, however, so there’s still a lot of unpredictability, and a lot of places where an election can be won.
I put together a chart of the towns showing their votes, but other than noticing that Enfield is the top vote getter for both parties, I’m not sure how useful it is. I’m including it, but as a thumbnail. Click if you want.
I’m thinking it’s actually more useful to try to break down the 2nd in other ways. There are too many towns, and it’s hard to get a handle on all of them at once. So I came up with this:
I’ve broken down the district into six “areas.”
Greater Hartford includes Enfield and Vernon, and towns surrounding them. These are towns with lots of commuters to Hartford or within the Hartford area. Voters’ concerns here are very similar to those of voters in the 1st District. They lean Democratic, although some of the most conservative towns in Greater Hartford are included here.
The Quiet Corner is the northeast part of the state, and it’s filled with small, rural towns that generally vote GOP. Windham County tends to have higher unemployment and lower average income than any other county in the state, so the economy is a big concern here.
Greater UCONN is a cluster of towns surrounding UCONN. This includes Windham, home of ECSU. There are a lot of students and employees of the universities living here, and these towns are generally much more liberal (to the chagrin of many people whose families have been living there for generations).
Small Towns of the Interior: These towns are caught between Hartford and New London, and are hard to categorize. They are small, mostly rural towns with the concerns that rural towns have, but lacking the specific concerns of other areas on the map. They trend Republican, although they will vote Democratic as well.
Southeastern Connecticut is the largest area by population on the map. The defense industry, casinos and the economy are all huge concerns here.
River and Sound includes more liberal Connecticut River towns like Deep River and Chester, and more conservative shore towns like Old Saybrook and Westbrook. There are even towns here that look towards New Haven, like Madison. The people here tend to be wealthier and have little in common with the rest of the district. Despite pockets of Democrats, this area trends GOP.
Courtney won by winning in Greater Hartford by a small margin, and winning in the UCONN area by a huge margin. Simmons won everywhere else, but not by enough to pull out a win. Here’s the breakdown by area:
This time around, Courtney has done a lot to shore up his position in Southeastern Connecticut, and I expect that despite the presence of Sean Sullivan on the ballot that Courtney will win this area in 2008. Sullivan can still win in the Quiet Corner and in River and Sound, but he may not win anywhere else. The presidential race may give Courtney wins in areas he lost before. The bottom line is that Courtney has been working hard to expand the shaky coalition of voters that elected him in 2006, and, faced with a relatively weak candidate in Sean Sullivan, a Democratic year, and a presidential election, he should be able to do so.
What about the future? The remarkable thing about the 2nd is that so much can shift in just a few years depending on the circumstances and the candidates. This district isn’t a lock for anyone, and both parties know it.