Editor's Note: In the final 100 days before Election Day, CNN has been profiling one race at random each day from among the nation's top 100 House races, which we've dubbed "The CNN 100." Read the full list here. Today's featured district is:
Connecticut 5th: Rep. Chris Murphy (D) is seeking a third term
Primary: August 10, 2010
Location: Northwestern Connecticut
Days until Election Day: 73
(CNN) - When Democrat Chris Murphy left the state Senate to pursue a job on Capitol Hill, Republican Sam Caligiuri took over Murphy’s old job. Four years later, Caligiuri is hoping to follow in Murphy’s footsteps again, but this time, he’s not waiting for Murphy to step aside.
Caligiuri is challenging Murphy, a two-term incumbent, in the race for Connecticut’s 5th district. Murphy won his seat in 2006 after defeating 24-year incumbent Nancy Johnson, a moderate Republican. Caligiuri originally planned to challenge Democrat Chris Dodd in the Senate race before Dodd announced his retirement, but he switched to the House race last November.
Caligiuri has sought to align Murphy with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the Democratic agenda, repeating his campaign slogan that “there is a better way” to tackle challenges than what the Democrats have proposed.
The challenge for Caligiuri, an establishment candidate, is securing the support of the Tea Party activists who backed Republican Mark Greenberg in the primary while also appealing to the 45 percent of voters in the district who are registered independents.
Murphy, a relatively popular 37-year-old lawmaker, hasn’t fallen victim to the anti-incumbent fervor that has struck others in office, but he’s facing another dilemma Democrats across the country are encountering: Voters are still waiting to see the change that was promised in 2008.
The race is a microcosm of a lot of the challenges both parties face in 2010, said Vincent Moscardelli, a political science professor at the University of Connecticut.
“All of these high profile races, whether they are happening in Nevada or Colorado or here in Connecticut, take place against the backdrop of these really powerful, long-term regional trends in party identification,” Moscardelli said.
“This is still an uphill battle for the Republicans. It’s a district that is held by a Democrat in an area of the country that is trending Democrat. And so the question is just whether the short-term forces that clearly favor the Republicans can overcome the structural advantage that the Democrats have in the form of an attractive incumbent and a lot of Democratic Party identifiers,” he added.
John Pistone, a resident of Brookfield, is also running in the race as an independent.
Murphy’s war chest is far more impressive than his challengers. The Democrat has raised more than $2 million. Caligiuri, who has served two terms in the state Senate, has raised about $837,000 and Pistone has yet to raise anything, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
All five of Connecticut’s House seats are currently held by Democrats.
The 5th district is a mix of lightly-populated rural areas and mid-sized industrial cities in the northwestern part of the state. The district encompasses most of Litchfield County in the state's "Northwest Corner" and stretches east to New Britain in Hartford County and south to Waterbury in the northern section of New Haven County. It also takes in the northern part of Fairfield County, including Danbury, but stops well short of the New York City suburbs to the south. The district split its vote in the 2004 presidential election but Barack Obama won 56 percent in 2008.
The 5th district is the least Democratic in the state. Voters in the district, which was redrawn after the 2000 census, have shown they are willing to elect members from either party.