"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.
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.