Democratic Rep. Joe Courtney handily won a third term in Congress last week, the successful end to a campaign that focused on the incumbent's work for Electric Boat and the Sub Base in Groton, coming more than 20 percentage points ahead of his Republican challenger, former TV journalist Janet Pecknipaugh.
On the campaign trail and in his victory speech last Tuesday, Courtney touted his role in bringing a billion-dollar submarine building contract to Groton and millions in infrastructure funds to reinvest in the Sub Base, once thought to be on the verge of closing.
Courtney said his work in Washington for Groton paid dividends across the Second Congressional district, which is made up of 65 cities and towns in eastern Connecticut. That strategy helped the popular Congressman win in a year when many other Democrats lost their seats.
"Looking around this room, I see faces from all over this district, which is a wonderful part of the state of Connecticut," Courtney told supporters who had gathered at the Holiday Inn in Norwich on Election Night. "It is an honor to travel around these 65 towns and really see what people are facing every day."
In Groton, Courtney received 70 percent of the vote, winning 6,744 votes to Peckinpaugh's 3,112. That lead was higher than the overall tally in the district, where Courtney received about 60 percent of the vote.
Courtney said residents of the state's 2nd District are tough but still need an advocate who will fight for them in Washington.
"Right now, as we're standing here in this room, there are people working hard on factory floors, in restaurants, in hospital emergency rooms. There are people getting ready for their next shift, there are teachers planning for the next lesson," Courtney said. "They believe in the future, and all they ask for is that they have a congressman who understands how hard they're working and who's there for them."
Though numbers indicated Courtney's strong lead early in the evening, Peckinpaugh waited until after 10 p.m. to formally concede. Citing internal polling that showed a late surge in support, she had been optimistic that the race would turn around.
"We stepped forward as a non-politician to fight a machine, and it was a hard fight," Peckinpaugh said, speaking to supporters and reporters at Water's Edge Resort and Spa in Westbrook. "I can tell you one thing: The people in this district are fabulous and they're hurting. I'm so glad we got to run this race, and I'm glad we did."
Courtney will return to a different political scene in Washington, serving in the minority party for the first time since his 2006 election. Riding a tide of voter anger and uncertainty, Republicans won enough seats Tuesday to wrest control the House of Representatives from Democrats. But Courtney said he hopes neither party will retrench and refuse to cooperate.
"It would be a huge mistake for the president or Speaker Boehner to really dig in," Courtney told reporters, referring to the presumed new Speaker of the House, John Boehner of Ohio. "That's something that is really going to be a mistake."
Courtney said he succeeded where other Democrats could not because he and his staff have worked hard to address the needs of eastern
"What we have here is different, and I think that's because we have an alliance-our office and the people of this district," Courtney told supporters. "And I love it."
During her campaign, Peckinpaugh struggled to deliver a coherent message to voters and had significantly less cash than Courtney, who spent more than $2 million this year, far more than the $250,000 she raised.
"The dollars had a lot to do with it," said Susan Gregory, Peckinpaugh's campaign manager.
Courtney was able to make this year's election more than a referendum on President Obama and the Democratic Party, who are popular with only about half of the district's voters. Throughout his campaign, Courtney touted his work to bring jobs to southeastern Connecticut, especially his support of dairy farmers and Electric Boat, his work to increase the availability of Pell grants for college students, and his opposition to the bailout of Wall Street banks and financial institutions.
That message seemed to stick, even as Peckinpaugh repeatedly asserted that Courtney voted in near-lockstep with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and other Democratic leaders.
"We believe in Joe Courtney. He's a man of tremendous honor and integrity and energy," said Erna Luering of Norwich. "If we had 538 of him, this country would be in really great shape. We really would."