Candidates hear the voices of discontent

U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District, left, greets his Republican challenger, East Lyme First Selectman Paul Formica, at a campaign event in Norwich Wednesday.
Buy Photo Tim Cook/The Day U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District, left, greets his Republican challenger, East Lyme First Selectman Paul Formica, at a campaign event in Norwich Wednesday.

The race in the 2nd Congressional District pits a political veteran seeking a fourth term against a local first selectman with nearly three decades of experience running a small business.

U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney, a Democrat, is running for another two-year term representing the state's largest geographic district.

His challenger, Republican Paul Formica, is the three-term East Lyme first selectman who has owned and operated the Flanders Fish Market & Restaurant for 28 years.

The ballot for the Nov. 6 election also will include Green Party candidate Colin Bennett and Dan Reale, Libertarian. But past history suggests the race will come down to the major party candidates.

Courtney has raised more than $1.4 million in campaign contributions - more than 13 times what Formica has raised, $104,421 - according to most recent filings. Since defeating then-U.S. Rep. Rob Simmons by 83 votes on his second try at the seat in 2006, Courtney, a former lawyer, has won his re-election bids handily.

He said in an interview earlier this month that his hope is to return to Washington and to see the House and Senate move past the stalemate that has defined the most recent Congress.

"This is still a very independent-minded district, and you have to go out and hustle," Courtney, 59, said. "The message I'm hearing at home is that people are ready for us to work together and get things done."

Formica, also 59, announced his candidacy in May after Republican Chris Coutu dropped out of the race to run for the 19th state Senate District seat being vacated by Edith Prague.

Formica had less than a week to decide whether he would pursue the state Republican Party nomination. When he won the nod, he faced the challenge of getting his name and message out in towns where he is an unknown.

Formica said a campaign team of 40 interns has used social media, such as Facebook and Internet videos, to get his message out. He visited businesses and traveled the district to towns such as Suffield, Enfield and Somers. In his stops, he said, there was a similar message.

"There's this wave of discontent that's running throughout the country," Formica said last week in a phone interview as he drove back from speaking with a history class at the Morgan School in Clinton.

"People are concerned about a lot of things, and (that concern) doesn't know any political affiliation. They're looking for government to respond and act in a different manner," he said.

Differences on issues

Courtney favors the national health care law while Formica favors some aspects of the law but prefers a more "free market" approach without individual mandates.

Courtney supports a plan that would let tax breaks for the highest-income earners expire - saving more than $800 billion, he said - while finding additional savings in other areas. Formica favors extending the Bush-era tax cuts for all, including the highest-income earners.

A leading player in securing the annual production of two Virginia-class submarines per year to bolster the fortunes of Electric Boat in Groton, Courtney also has been a fierce advocate of legislation that postponed the doubling of interest rates on federally-subsidized student loans.

Formica also has touted the economic impact of continued submarine production in the region, as well as his success in transferring prudent business practices to municipal government. He said East Lyme's budget increases have averaged 1.2 percent over the last five years.

While he is going up against a popular candidate who defeated his last challenger by 21 percentage points, Formica said that precedent has not deterred his campaign.

"It's forced us to do something different," he said. "In all my life in business and customer service, I learned that you have to get up every day and get yourself in front of as many people as you can and make the case for them to do business with you. That's what we're doing."

Bennett, 33, ran unsuccessfully for a state Senate seat and has never held elected office. In debates and other public forums, he has criticized the nation's defense spending and has said more effort should be made to find alternative energy sources, such as wind and solar.

Reale, 30, is a self-described writer and talk show host and also has never held elected office. He has criticized government spending and has been an advocate for health care reform.

jeff.johnson@theday.com

Monday's debate

Democrat Rep. Joe Courtney and his Republican challenger, East Lyme First Selectman Paul Formica, are scheduled to take part in a one-hour debate Monday.

The 2nd Congressional District debate will be held at 7 p.m. in Palmer Auditorium on the campus of Connecticut College in New London and will be open to the public. The debate is a cooperative effort of The Day, Conn College and Connecticut Public Television. The debate will be covered live on CPTV stations and streamed live at www.theday.com.

A decision will be made today as to whether the debate will be held as scheduled or rescheduled because of Hurricane Sandy. Check theday.com tonight for the latest.

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