Success in politics is sometimes a matter of intelligence, principle, and skill, but often it is most of all a matter of luck. That seems to be the case with Elizabeth Esty, even as she explains her recent success as being entirely a matter of hard work.
While she served only one term in the state House of Representatives, being defeated for re-election, Esty now finds herself the Democratic nominee for the U.S. House of Representatives in Connecticut’s 5th District.
Her bad luck was her being a longtime opponent of capital punishment while representing Cheshire when three members of the Petit family there were murdered by two career criminals on parole. Her Republican challenger raised the capital punishment issue against her and she lost in a close race, though there were other factors as well.
Esty’s good luck was taking a flyer on running for Congress this year just before the overwhelming favorite for the Democratic nomination, state House Speaker Chris Donovan, was mortally wounded by a corruption scandal involving his legislative and campaign staffs. Esty turned out to be the only woman in the primary, facing Donovan and another man, an unknown whose only strength was the financial support arranged by his father, a Washington lobbyist.
A newspaper headlined Esty’s victory in the primary as an “August surprise,” but she had seemed the likely winner for several weeks, as Democrats could see that her two rivals would be weak candidates in the general election. If the Donovan scandal had broken a few months earlier, several Democrats far more prominent than Esty likely would have gotten into the race and one of them probably would have won the primary. But first they would have had to put their political careers at risk against the House speaker.
Having been quickly kicked out of office, Esty had no political career to lose, only one to regain. Her congressional candidacy was more or less just a lottery ticket, but as the state lottery’s advertisements proclaim, “You can’t win if you don’t play.”
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Meanwhile the winner of the Republican primary for Congress in the 5th District, state Sen. Andrew Roraback, is being criticized by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee for being a reactionary “tea party Republican” and by the conservative magazine Human Events for being a liberal. This seems to certify Roraback as remaining capable of original thought and not yet having made himself the prisoner of ideology.
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Accepting victory in the Republican primary for U.S. senator, wrestling zillionaire Linda McMahon gave another speech denouncing “career politicians.” The next day her campaign distributed a list of 50 “notable Republicans” who now had endorsed her in pursuit of party unity — many of them “career politicians” themselves.
Responding to the irony, a campaign spokesman claimed that McMahon isn’t against “career politicians” generally but rather thinks that there should be more balance in Congress between “career politicians” and “job creators” like herself. But if that’s what McMahon thinks, it is not what she has said. She has never qualified her sneer at “career politicians.” Indeed, any qualification would drain the sting from what is supposed to be a snappy insult.
McMahon’s shtick couldn’t be sillier but her campaign must be confident of keeping her far enough from any journalist that she’ll never have to explain herself about anything even as her pervasive advertising tries to drum the sneer into everyone’s head — at least until she wins the chance to become a “career politician” herself.
It’s a tedious technique, having manifested itself memorably in the 1948 presidential campaign, when Republicans attacked the Democratic national administration under President Harry Truman for being full of “bureaucrats,” the buzz word of that era. Truman’s vice presidential running mate, Sen. Alben Barkley of Kentucky, threw it back at the Republicans. “A ‘bureaucrat,’” Barkley said, “is a Democrat who has a job some Republican wants.”
Chris Powell is managing editor of the Journal Inquirer in Manchester.