NEW HAVEN, Conn. (AP) - While Republicans nationally have maintained their majority in the U.S. House of Representatives aided by redrawn districts, the GOP in Connecticut has lost every congressional race in the past three elections and failed to win a redistricting plan in 2012 aimed at reversing its fortunes.
Republicans have a long history of winning in this Democratic state, capturing the governor’s office for 16 years before Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, a Democrat, narrowly won it in 2010. The GOP sought major changes to congressional district boundaries, but after a deadlock with Democrats, the state Supreme Court approved a plan by its special master that made minor changes.
“The Democrats did a disservice to our state by opposing reasonable reforms to our gerrymandered congressional districts,” said GOP Chairman Jerry Labriola Jr. “With nearly 60 percent of our towns controlled by Republicans, it is unhealthy to have the Democrats control all seven federal representatives to Congress.”
Elizabeth Larkin, a spokeswoman for Democrats, countered: “Under Jerry’s leadership, his party’s lost just about everything, and is broke. This is just sour grapes.”
Nationally, Republicans built an advantage when they drew new boundaries for House districts in key states after the 2010 Census. Geography and gerrymandering helped them hold onto a 33-seat majority in the House despite widespread GOP losses in the 2012 election.
In Connecticut, Democrats accused the Republicans two years ago of offering radical changes during the redistricting commission’s closed-door negotiations, such as moving Democratic-heavy Bridgeport and New Britain into new districts that already have large populations of racial minorities who generally vote Democrat.
Former Rep. Chris Shays, the last Republican to win a seat in 2006 in the 4th Congressional District, was trounced two years later in Bridgeport, Connecticut’s largest city, as President Barack Obama won his historic election as the country’s first black president. But Shays blamed the defeat of Republicans in New England on the party’s national reputation and said redistricting was not a factor.
Republicans have pinned their best hopes on the 5th congressional District, arguing in 2012 that the district that encompasses a large swath of western Connecticut was gerrymandered 10 years earlier to accommodate two specific candidates and was intended to be redrawn.
Democratic legislative leaders argued that only minor changes were needed given relatively small population changes over the last decade and urged the court not to make wholesale changes to the district boundaries, a task traditionally reserved for the legislative branch of government. Republicans called for a plan that took into account traditional redistricting values, such as creating compact districts and lumping communities of interest together.
Democratic incumbents so far hold a major fundraising advantage over Republican challengers in this year’s election. In the 5th District, Republican Mark Greenberg is running again after losing twice.
Republicans tried unsuccessfully to recruit Dr. William Petit, whose wife and two daughters were killed in a home invasion in 2007, to run for the seat.
With no major redistricting in 2012, Democrats continue to hold a comfortable majority in all five congressional districts. Unaffiliated voters make up the largest group in four of the five districts.
“We’ve run some pretty good candidates,” said Shays, who also lost a Republican primary for Senate in 2010. “The problem is when you start to lose and lose again it discourages good candidates from coming forward because they begin to think they can’t win no matter what they do. It’s almost a self-fulfilling prophecy.”