GOP congressional candidates pitch anti-socialist message
HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — With the state's Aug. 11 primary fast approaching, some Republican congressional candidates have been bucking conventional wisdom it will be difficult to run in Democratic-leaning Connecticut on an outspoken conservative message this November. Instead, they argue that they're resonating with a large number of silent voters concerned by what they see as efforts to move the country drastically to the far political left.
They've often used words like “socialist," “radical” or “leftist” in their campaigns to describe Democratic policies and the political positions of the five incumbent Democratic members of the U.S. House of Representatives, all of whom are all seeking re-election.
Jonathan Riddle, the endorsed Republican in the 4th Congressional District who doesn't face a primary challenge, recently accused four-term Democratic U.S. Rep. Jim Himes on Twitter of being a “Marxist in sheep’s clothing bent on supporting the Socialist agenda of Nancy Pelosi, AOC, and their far leftist squad," a reference to U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-New York, and three other freshman members of Congress.
A message was left seeking comment with Himes' campaign about the tweets.
James Griffin, a candidate in the 1st District primary who left the Democratic Party and became a Republican in 2017, has gone further and accused those he considers to be establishment Democrats of supporting communism, not just socialism.
“I can see that my old party Dems, they're trying to make this country a communist country. And if you’re not awake, you don’t see that,” said Griffin. He contends the “Democratic bureaucracy” in Washington “has progressively moved the country to a chaotic state which is ripe for taking by communist control.”
Republican President Donald Trump has accused Washington Democrats of having a “socialist” agenda, promising during his 2019 State of the Union address to “renew our resolve that America will never be a socialist country.” Yet, Trump, who lost Connecticut in the 2016 presidential election, is not very popular in the state. A May 6 survey conducted by Quinnipiac University showed 36% of registered voters approved of the job he was doing, while 61% percent disapproved. When asked about how he was handling the coronavirus, the results were the same.
While Democrats control all five House seats, both Senate seats, the legislature and all state constitutional offices, including governor, many municipalities are controlled by Republicans and the GOP has made inroads in places like eastern Connecticut, where there are more blue-collar Republicans who support Trump.
Mary Fay, a financial services senior executive who was endorsed by the state's Republican party in the 1st District primary, has billed herself as a moderate who stands the best chance of defeating Democratic U.S. Rep. John Larson in November. A member of the town council in West Hartford, a Democratic stronghold, Fay acknowledged she is concerned about the “squad” and the factions she believes support socialist policies in the U.S. However, Fay said she votes with the Democrats on the council when she believes it makes sense and opposes them when it doesn't, an approach she'd like to bring to Washington, D.C.
“I can’t accuse every Democrat of being a communist," she said with a laugh. “It's an issue, I just don’t know that campaigning on that is a winning strategy because it just sounds so crazy. Right? So, we've got to unite and pull the country together. And I believe leading in the middle is where most people are now.”
Justin Anderson, who is challenging endorsed candidate Thomas Gilmer for the Republican nomination in the 2nd District race, said he believes Trump and his policies are more popular in the state than the polling shows.
Anderson, a retired correctional officer and a Connecticut Army National Guard veteran who served two combat tours in Afghanistan, said voters tell him they're concerned about what they consider a move toward socialism in Washington. He said they're also worried about calls to defund police and other issues, but they're reticent to express their concerns, as well as any support for Trump, because it's not welcome in Connecticut.
While Anderson said he's been told by some Republicans he can't defeat Democratic U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney, he contends he's well known in military circles and believes there's support for his message that the party doesn't see.
“Eastern Connecticut is going to quietly pull the lever for Trump and go down the line,” predicted Anderson, who quit his federal job as a state intelligence operations specialist to run for the chance to challenge Courtney in November.
“That was a huge decision to walk away from this job. That's not something you take lightly," Anderson said. “That's not something I would do if I didn't honestly believe I could win."