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Can Anyone Deny Donovan a Seat in Congress?

Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo

But there are at least some reasons to wonder whether Donovan (or any Democrat) might have a more difficult time next November than anyone might initially assume.

Republican gubernatorial nominee Tom Foley carried the 5th district easily in 2010, and the GOP nominee for state attorney general also carried it.

Now-Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D) just barely carried the district in 2010. In the 2004 presidential race, Democratic Sen. John Kerry (Mass.) nosed out President George W. Bush by 1,100 votes.

Though the current district has changed over the years following reapportionment and redistricting, in the past 30 years a number of Republicans have represented parts of what is now the 5th district. That list includes former Reps. Nancy Johnson, John Rowland and Gary Franks.

When Democrats have problems in the 5th district, it is because they lose too many working-class whites, the kind of voters once referred to as Reagan Democrats. These blue-collar voters usually look to Democrats for economic solutions but have sometimes been attracted to Republicans running as agents of change, particularly if the Democrat seems too liberal or ineffective.

Donovan’s style certainly should appeal to those swing voters, and his connections to organized labor should be another plus. But his liberal record may cause problems, and Obama’s presence at the top of the ticket could be an albatross for any Democrat running in this district among blue-collar voters.

The GOP race is crowded already, with a nominee many months away. Still, two names are particularly worth noting now.

Justin Bernier is a veteran of the war in Afghanistan and a former executive director of Connecticut’s Office of Military Affairs. He ran unsuccessfully in the district in 2010.

Lisa Wilson-Foley is a wealthy businesswoman who impressed political observers even though she narrowly lost a bid to become the GOP nominee for lieutenant governor last year. In a state where female candidates have been successful, Wilson-Foley might present a particularly appealing profile to 5th district voters.

Chris Donovan seems like the obvious favorite to be the next Congressman. But in an unusual political environment, such as the one we are in now, this race is worth watching. Strange things could happen.

Stuart Rothenberg is editor of the Rothenberg Political Report.

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