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Coutu's quixotic quest for Congress

By Paul Choiniere

Publication: theday.com

Published 04/30/2012 12:00 AM
Updated 04/30/2012 10:08 AM

Chris Coutu, the Republican 47th District state representative for the towns of Norwich, Sprague, Canterbury and Scotland, recently returned from 10 weeks of Army National Guard training in South Carolina to resume his longest-of-long-shot’s quest to unseat Democratic Rep. Joe Courtney and become the U.S. congressman from the 2nd District.

Knowing Coutu, that reference to his major underdog status will only fire him up.

To even qualify for a run against the incumbent Democrat, the ever optimistic, ever energetic Coutu has to win the Republican nomination at the May 18 party convention, where he faces a challenge from Davia Novak of Madison. Campaign surrogates have been lobbying for delegate support during Coutu’s long absence to meet his military obligation.

If Coutu, 35, manages to win the nomination (a primary is certainly possible), he will face a far greater challenge in taking on Courtney. Coutu’s electoral success in the politically mixed 47th District — Democrats dominate in Sprague and Norwich, Republicans in Scotland and Canterbury — can be attributed in large part to his personal touch. He is a relentless and effective door-to-door campaigner and also good in small groups. This hands-on approach, however, will not count for as much in the huge 2nd District, consisting of the eastern half of Connecticut. Money is necessary to get the message out, and the most recent filings show Courtney with a roughly $920,000 to $129,000 lead.

It is also difficult to see Coutu’s tea-party brand of fiscal conservatism playing well in a district that has traditionally gravitated toward moderates, be they Democrat or Republican. He was the lone state representative to vote against the $626 million state jobs bill, calling it too expensive and saying it was not the role of government to pick winners and losers by raising the taxes on some in order to give the money to other individuals and businesses. But all the other Republicans and Democrats in the House saw it as a smart and reasonable investment to spur job growth.

Among Coutu’s strengths is his commitment to military values and military veterans. He founded the AmericanWarrior organization in 2005, which has paid to send nearly 800 veterans to Washington to visit the war memorials honoring them. Then there is Coutu’s own 17 years of service, beginning in the Air Force.

But Courtney also has been a strong advocate for veterans and the military. He was a leader in the effort to secure two-per-year submarine construction at Electric Boat and fought for funding for a veterans’ home in Jewett City. Today (Monday, April 30), Courtney will be in Essex to announce that Bell Power Systems has secured an $8 million contract to rebuild diesel engines. It gave the congressman the chance to highlight his support for the VOW to Hire Heroes Act, which offers tax credits of up to $9,600 for every veteran a business hires. Bell Power is utilizing the program.

Undaunted, Coutu said recently he is confident that 2nd District voters are in the mood to “elect a citizen leader, not a lifelong politician.”

Many have tried that slogan before, usually without success.


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