In 2004, Nancy Johnson won every town in her district save Cornwall and New Britain. In 2006, however, she lost every town in the district save six–sometimes by remarkable margins. There are forty-one towns in the district–meaning that an incredible thirty-three towns that had voted Republican in 2004 voted Democrat in 2006. Behold:
This is remarkable considering how Republican-leaning the district still is. Take a look at the map of swing towns for this district. There aren’t many.
A lot of towns that are usually safe for Republicans voted in a Democrat in 2006. A lot of that has to do with national events and the particular dynamics of that race (i.e., Nancy Johnson blew it while Murphy ran a great campaign), but the fact remains that these towns aren’t nearly as “safe” as Republicans might have hoped.
To illustrate the point, Murphy won Avon by almost 500 votes. Avon. Not exactly a hotbed of liberalism!
So does that mean the political dynamics of this district are changing? In some places, I think they are. The Farmington Valley has been becoming ever more Democratic for most of this decade. But I think that what’s really happening here is history re-asserting itself. This district, which comprises most of the old 6th and 5th districts from before the 2000 merger and reorganization, has a history of electing both Republicans and Democrats. Until 2002, Democrat James Maloney represented the 5th district, while Nancy Johnson represented the 6th as a longtime incumbent. They faced each other in a very Republican year when the districts were merged, and Johnson won.
That, of course, means that most of the district is not averse to voting for a Democrat, despite other Republican-leaning tendencies, when the need for change strikes them. The 5th district has had higher turnover than any other district over the past fifty years, and since 1970 incumbents in that district have served an average of only three terms. National events seem to have a bigger impact here, as well. For instance, Johnson defeated Maloney in a very Republican year nationwide. Maloney himself came to power on Bill Clinton’s coattails in 1996, while John Rowland won in 1984 with the help of Ronald Reagan.
It seems strange, but this should continue to be the case over the long haul. The demographics of the district are a lot more balanced than it would appear. The cartogram shows it much better:
This map shows that while there are a lot of Republican towns, they are not very large. The big, Democratic cities of New Britain, Meriden and Waterbury balance them out, as does the often-Democratic Danbury. As the Farmington Valley becomes more open to Democrats, the balance will start tilting slightly in their favor.
But there are a lot of swing voters still out there, and Waterbury and Danbury are probably the most likely of Connecticut’s cities to vote Republican. This district is very winnable for the right Republican in the right year.
Is that year this year? Is David Cappiello that Republican? …Probably not. 2008 is shaping up to be a good year for Democrats nationwide, and neither the 5th nor the old 6th district have kicked out a one-term incumbent since 1946. The numbers seem to favor Murphy.
2010, though, is anyone’s guess.