Connecticut's Republican Party is so pitiful and political competition in the state has fallen so low that almost anyone might be welcomed in pursuit of one of the party's nominations. But Dr. William A. Petit Jr.'s possible candidacy for Congress in the 5th District would be, like the recent U.S. Senate candidacies of zillionaire wrestling entrepreneur Linda McMahon, a case of presuming to start at the top.
Only her ability to finance a lavish campaign made McMahon's candidacy plausible. She had no record of public service. Seduced by her money, Republicans were mortified by her performance.
Petit's claim to fame is as Connecticut's most sympathetic crime victim, his having been badly beaten in the infamous home invasion in Cheshire in 2007 in which his wife and daughters were murdered. Petit's only involvement with public policy has been his advocacy of capital punishment. While capital punishment seems widely favored in the state, few people feel strongly about it and the General Assembly and Gov. Dannel P. Malloy repealed it prospectively over Petit's opposition.
Victimhood has worked politically elsewhere as a mechanism for starting at the top. That's why Carolyn McCarthy represents a New York district in the U.S. House of Representatives, having campaigned for more gun control after her husband and five other people were murdered by a madman with a handgun on a commuter train in 1993. But McCarthy, a Democrat, challenged a vulnerable first-term Republican in a district that was turning Democratic. While Connecticut's 5th District was competitive some years ago, it too has become more Democratic. It now is represented by first-term Democrat Elizabeth Esty.
Of course Esty herself didn't have much political experience when she was elected to Congress, just one term in the state House of Representatives, where she was defeated for re-election in part because of her opposition to capital punishment after the Cheshire murders. And Esty was elected to Congress only because the leading Democratic contender, state House Speaker Chris Donovan, was brought down by a campaign finance scandal. So Esty might be vulnerable.
But the recklessness of the Republican majority in the U.S. House is unpopular in Connecticut and any Republican challenger to Esty will have to explain to voters why they should empower it. That is not likely to be easy for someone without any familiarity with national issues.
Malloy surprised people the other day at the awards dinner of the Greater Waterbury Chamber of Commerce when, having concluded his remarks, he learned that former Gov. John G. Rowland, a Waterbury native and former chamber employee, was in the audience. Malloy returned to the podium to praise Rowland for having "done so much for Connecticut."
Malloy long has been blaming Rowland for state government's disastrous financial condition, and Rowland has reciprocated on his radio program on WTIC-AM 1080, disparaging Malloy, often with contempt. Further, of course, Rowland's greatest renown is as the first Connecticut governor convicted of corruption.
A spokesman explains Malloy's remarks about Rowland as "civility." But civility is merely decent behavior; civility does not compel praise. Indeed, Malloy's sort of civility could have given the impression that the worst political disgrace in Connecticut's history is no big deal now, that all is forgiven and forgotten, though forgiving is one thing and forgetting is something else.
Malloy's sort of civility also might have given the impression that he sought to induce Rowland to ease off the criticism on the radio. That criticism can get too smug. But even when it is too smug, it is no more persuasive than Malloy's praise of Rowland was.