Taking Back the House: Age and Treachery v. Youth and Skill

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DISTRICT: CONNECTICUT's 5TH (New Britain)

INCUMBENT: Rep. Nancy Johnson (R, twelve terms)

CHALLENGER: State Sen. Chris Murphy (D)

TOP ISSUE: The Medicare fiasco

The anti-incumbent fervor stirred up by the defeat of Sen. Joe Lieberman in the Democratic primary threatens to oust no fewer than three GOP representatives in Connecticut. But the key race involves Johnson, who represents the most conservative district in New England outside of New Hampshire. Johnson, 71, drew national ire over the Medicare benefit she co-sponsored in 2003 that actually prohibits the federal government from negotiating discounts on prescription drugs for the elderly. "The benefit was written for and by the drug industry," charges Murphy. "And seniors throughout the district are going to be holding her accountable in November."

Only thirty-three, Murphy has passed major health-care legislation of his own, spearheading a landmark state effort to spend $100 million on the embryonic stem-cell research that Bush used his first and only veto to block. And Murphy has already established a track record of toppling incumbents: As a recent graduate of Williams College, he upset a fourteen-year veteran in the state legislature by literally knocking on every door in the district — some of them twice. "Chris is a rising star," says Rep. Chris Van Hollen who leads the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee's Red-To-Blue campaign. "He brings to this race a great mix of both the policy and the politics."

Murphy is once again hitting the streets. He has embarked on a forty-one town door-knocking tour — and is reaching out to younger voters by posting a daily video of the effort on YouTube. But the GOP incumbent is bankrolled by corporate backers, many of them from outside the district. "Nancy Johnson is a pitbull," says Carl Forti, spokesman for the National Republican Campaign Committee. "She has got a million more dollars in the bank, and she's already been on TV for weeks attacking Murphy for raising taxes twenty-seven times."

Given the widespread anger among voters, however, a big war chest might not be enough this time. "At the end of the day, Nancy Johnson's money and her campaign skills may allow her to squeeze out a victory," says Stu Rothenberg, a respected political handicapper. "But the environment's very bad. If the election is primarily about change, Nancy Johnson can be portrayed as part of the problem."

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