This map is impossible. And yet here it is:
Joe Courtney won this district by the smallest margin in the country in 2006, defeating the popular Rob Simmons by a bare 87 votes. He was given the nickname “Landslide Joe” in honor of his narrow win. This year Courtney won re-election by over 106,000 votes: a 2-1 margin. He did well in New London County. He did well in the river valley. He did well in greater Enfield. He did well in the Quiet Corner. He did really well out in UCONN-land.
Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Joe Courtney’s landslide. He won every town in the sprawling, unpredictable 2nd congressional district by double digits.
The map at the top has only two color variations: 20%+ (there were a lot of these) and 10%-20%. I didn’t need anything else.
Sam Gejdenson pulled off some massive wins in his time, so this district is absolutely capable of it. And yes, I expected Courtney to win. But I never expected it to be this big. How did it happen?
Several elements combined to make a perfect storm for Courtney. Barack Obama and the general trend towards Democrats nationally was at least something of a factor, certainly interest in the presidential race drove Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents to the polls. This district has a lot of those, and in a Democratic year they turned out.
Another big factor was Joe Courtney’s positive campaign. Courtney has a number of achievements worth talking about, such as delivering another sub for Electric Boat, and he did his best to let voters know about them. He kept his commercials positive and focused on economic matters, a smart move. Voters reacted well to the focus on the positive in a season of negative, nasty attacks.
Courtney also raised an awful lot of money, and outspent rival Sean Sullivan by an incredible amount. Courtney had a strong fundraising operation, and raised enough money to take on Rob Simmons again.
The final factor was the truly awful campaign of Sean Sullivan. He raised little money. His campaign consisted mainly of negative attacks, many of them misleading at best. He seemed to have no focus beyond attacking Courtney, and gave voters little idea of who he was, what he stood for, or what he’d do in Congress. When he finally did get on the air with some commercials, he blew it by creating laughably terrible negative ads.
His performance at the debates showed a hint of the candidate who might have been, but his campaign never seemed to capitalize on that. His problems were reflected at the polls. He significantly underperformed John McCain in the district, as McCain’s voters either crossed over to Courtney or disappeared. An example of this is Bolton. Obama won the town 1,692-1,300. But Courtney won the town 1,676-1,048. Courtney kept the Obama voters, it seems, but McCain voters simply didnt stick with the ticket. This happened to varying degrees all across the district.
In a Democratic year, Sullivan probably wasn’t going to win anyway. But the awful campaign he ran ensured he wouldn’t just lose, he’d be crushed. And so he was, by the smart, professional and positive Courtney operation.
So there you go. The impossible happened, and this district tilted all the way over in favor of Joe Courtney. This district has been close, close, close ever since Enfield joined it in 2002, so I suppose it was about time for it to head in the other direction. You never can tell.