Former Hartford Mayor Ann Uccello once wanted to be a U.S. Senator. A few years ago she told me a story of way back in 1970 when she met with then Congressman Lowell Weicker about the race for the senate seat then held by Senator Thomas Dodd. Uccello and Weicker were rising stars in the Republican party and both had caught the attention of President Richard Nixon. It was a Republican year and it was believed either one could be elected. Uccello told me Weicker really wanted to be a senator and so she decided to back him rather than challenge him in a primary, quelling her own ambition. She put thoughts of becoming Connecticut’s first female senator on the back burner, and at the urging of Nixon and other Republicans, ran for the 1st congressional seat. The popular mayor was soundly defeated in this heavily Democratic district and her dreams of the senate were over.
Running for the senate is a moment that must be seized because the opportunities don’t come around that often, especially open senate seats. If Congressmen Joe Courtney and Chris Murphy pass on 2012, they won’t get a chance again until 2018, and that’s only if a Republican is elected. If Courtney passes and Murphy runs and wins, Courtney’s dream of the senate may never be realized. Keep in mind Senator Joe Lieberman was first elected in 1988, and Senator Chris Dodd in 1980. Dick Blumenthal is the first new senator elected in more than a generation.
At first glance, Congressmen Joe Courtney and Chris Murphy seem pretty equal. They were both elected in 2006, largely on the unpopularity of then President George W. Bush. They both knocked off incumbent Republicans. Courtney’s defeat of Rob Simmons was a narrow win overshadowed by the pummelling by Murphy of congressional titan Nancy Johnson. That victory made Murphy the darling of the myleftnutmeg crowd.
In 2008, both Murphy and Courtney were easily re-elected. This time, Courtney won by a greater margin, 66% to Murphy’s 59%, This past year both were re-elected, and again Courtney’s victory was by a larger margin than Murphy’s: 60% to 54%. Courtney received about 26,000 more votes than Murphy.
So who makes the better candidate for the Senate? Murphy has a more liberal record than Courtney, and that could help in a primary. Courtney has a more moderate reputation, that could appeal to some of those Lieberman voters in a general election. He also voted against TARP, which scores points with independents and Republicans.
Will both Courtney and Murphy run? Possibly, but I doubt it. Maybe they’ll have a Uccello Weicker type meeting and hash out a deal, although the voters would be better served if both men ran and voters got to make the choice. Throw in Susan Bysiewicz and maybe Ted Kennedy, Junior and we would have quite a primary campaign.