Goliath vs. Goliath

  • Share
  • Read Later
Most congressional races are mismatches. Incumbents tend to have bank accounts and name recognition that few challengers can match. But once a decade or so, redistricting forces a pair of incumbents into the same district to fight for one seat. That's what is happening in Connecticut, where two heavyweight pols are locked in the fight of their careers. Come November, one will suddenly be bumped from power.

"It's fun," contends Nancy Johnson, the Republican candidate. "It's much the same as my previous races," says Democratic opponent Jim Maloney. Don't buy the cheery bravado. This is not just a battle for political survival; the winner could well deliver control of the House to his or her party.

 Can Bush Manage His Triumph?
 Poniewozik: Exit the Exit Polls
 How the Dems Lost in Texas
 A Big Night for Bush
 The Night's Winners and Losers
 Dems Squander Their Chances
 Why Jeb Bush Won Big

 Balance of Power Tally
 Senate | House | Gov.

 Presidential Firsts
 Election Special Issues

CNN.com: Latest Headlines
Sure, all 435 seats are up for grabs Nov. 5, but fewer than a dozen races are likely to be close. When the parties drew up new districts this year, they largely obeyed a time-honored principle of mutually assured incumbency. But the latest Census resulted in Connecticut's losing a House district, so state lawmakers merged Maloney's and Johnson's. Their race and the few other toss-ups will decide whether Dick Gephardt will take over the Speaker's gavel. The most recent poll has Johnson leading 44% to 39% among likely voters. She has built that small lead while greatly outspending Maloney. At last count, she had raised more than $2 million; he had a quarter of that. She has used the cash primarily to buy more TV ads, a necessity, since she has to introduce herself to his half of the district.

Speaking to voters in Waterbury last week, Johnson produced a three-foot stack of papers — bills she has written and shepherded into law in the six years Maloney has been in Washington. Johnson, who has served 20 years, is a high-ranking member of the Ways and Means Committee. Next to her pile was Maloney's: one two-page law. (He says he took the lead on at least two others.)

Maloney would rather talk about issues. There are 13,000 more registered Democrats than Republicans in the district, and he is trying to convince them that Johnson is a conservative in moderate dress. But he is getting little traction on key issues such as the economy, Social Security and health care. Johnson sponsored the Republican version of a Medicare prescription-drug plan, leaving Maloney at pains to explain why the Democrats' version is better.

Maloney hoped to gain from concerns about corporate greed when local hardware company Stanley Works considered reincorporating in Bermuda to reduce taxes. He sponsored a bill to end the practice. Johnson countered with one that would put a three-year moratorium on such moves. Johnson's g.o.p. colleagues on the Ways and Means Committee then tried to block Maloney from testifying for his bill.

Expect more hardball from both sides. After all, a real contest is a rare thing in the House this year.