Clash in Connecticut's 5th
Voters in Connecticut's 5th district won't head to the ballot box to choose between Rep. Nancy Johnson (R) and state Sen. Chris Murphy (D) for another seven months but the two sides are sniping at one another as though it is the weekend before the election.
The catalyst for the fight is MoveOn.org, which has targeted Johnson (along with Reps Chris Chocola, Deborah Pryce and Thelma Drake) in their "Redhanded" media campaign; the liberal organization is currently running its second series of television ads attacking the incumbents for accepting contributions from energy and pharmaceutical companies, and tying those donations to their support of the House-passed energy bill and Medicare prescription drug legislation.
"Tom DeLay, Dick Cheney, Jack Abramoff and now Nancy Johnson....another Republican caught redhanded," says the narrator in the latest MoveOn spot running in the 5th district.
While all four Members condemned the ads, only Johnson decided to spend money out of her campaign kitty to respond to them.
Johnson is now up with an ad, which makes no mention of MoveOn, but rather attacks Murphy's "special interest friends." The narrator in the Johnson commercial goes on to describe Murphy as a "bought and paid for politician" while an image of an editorial by the Waterbury Republican American newspaper -- headlined "Benedict Murphy" --appears on the screen.
Sarah Merriam, Murphy's campaign manager, said that her boss has "said repeatedly that all of these independent groups should stay out" and accused Johnson of trying to "distract" voters by attacking Murphy rather than addressing the issues raised by the ads. "She knows very well that we are not coordinating with anyone," added Merriam.
Brian Flaherty, who serves as a co-chairman in Johnson's campaign, said a decision had been made early on that "we would respond strongly and forcefully to any kind of attack on Nancy." Flaherty added that Johnson "has been attacked and held back" in campaigns past and had learned her lesson.
By far Johnson's closest call came in 1996 when she faced a rematch against her 1994 opponent -- Charlotte Koskoff. Koskoff and the Democrats pummeled Johnson, then the chair of the House Ethics Committee, over her connections to Speaker Newt Gingrich, who was being investigated by her committee. Johnson won that race by 1,500 votes out of more than 220,000 cast.
Another reason for Johnson's decision to respond, according to Flaherty, is the huge financial edge she enjoys over Murphy. At the end of March Johnson had a whopping $2.5 million in the bank compared to Murphy's $655,000.
Will the ad exchange make a difference this November? Probably not. Johnson represents the best Republican district in the state (although Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry narrowly won it in 2004) and has shown an ability to win tough elections -- witness her convincing 2002 defeat of fellow Rep. Jim Maloney (D) in a redistricting-forced battle. Murphy is running an energetic campaign but needs a considerable national wave to topple Johnson.
April 27, 2006; 6:55 PM ET
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