Conservatives Face Old Foes in New Political Climate


Caligiuri vs. Murphy

When Sam Caligiuri—attorney and president of the Board of Aldermen in the city of Waterbury, Conn.—checked into St. Mary’s Hospital on July 20, 2001, he never dreamed what would happen during his knee surgery and subsequent convalescence. When Caligiuri (pronounced “Cala-jury”) checked out six days later, he was mayor of the Brass City. 

The law had caught up with the previous mayor. As next in the line of succession at City Hall, Republican Caligiuri made some quick decisions.

“First, I made it clear I was not going to run for a full term that fall,” he recalled. “Then came the dismantling of the ‘pay to play’ arrangement with contractors that had been the cause of so much corruption in Waterbury. We dismantled it in favor of a system based strictly on merit.”

The new mayor also removed patronage from the corporation counsel’s office and negotiated two tough collective bargaining agreements with city employees. 

And then, just as the young Abraham Lincoln returned to law practice after a stint in Congress and Lucius Quintus Cincinnatus went back to his farm after ruling Rome, Sam Caligiuri left City Hall in ’02 and became a partner in his old law firm. 

But in ’06, he returned to politics. The conservative Caligiuri set his sites on the seat of liberal Democratic state Sen. Chris Murphy, only to have Murphy leave the race to successfully challenge 24-year GOP Rep. Nancy Johnson. Caligiuri won Murphy’s senate seat and a year later made headlines as the only Republican in the state legislature to vote against the state budget.

“It violated the state spending cap and we needed to live within our means,” explained Caligiuri, who defied Republican Gov. Jodi Rell to vote “no.”

This year, at age 44, Sam Caligiuri will finally get a crack at Murphy. Having beaten two opponents to win the Republican nod for Congress, the Waterbury man is now blitzing the 41 towns in the Nutmeg State’s 5th District to vividly spell out where he differs with the left-wing Murphy (lifetime American Conservative Union rating: 4%).

In a state where Republicans tend to downplay the abortion issue and the term “conservative,” Caligiuri proudly embraces both. As he puts it, “I’m strongly pro-life and my opponent is not. He’s a liberal who supports bigger government and higher taxes. He wants the Bush tax cuts to expire and I not only want to extend them, but I want to cut the marginal effective tax rate, the corporate and capital gains tax, and end the death tax. And we not only need spending caps on the entire budget but also need to put reform of entitlements on the table.”

“And he voted for the Obama-backed healthcare bill only after he realized he couldn’t get the public option he has championed,” says the GOP candidate, who was the first U.S. House hopeful in New England to sign the Club for Growth’s pledge to “repeal and defund” the massive healthcare bill.

This is a clash of opposites on just about everything.  Sam Caligiuri likes to say that the downside of his election to the state senate in ’06 was that he didn’t get to face Chris Murphy. Four years later, he is finally facing Murphy and, if conservatives answer Sam Caligiuri’s clarion call, he’ll finish the job.

(Caligiuri for Congress, P. O. Box 11252, Waterbury, Conn, 06703; 203-528-0209;


Watkins vs. Inslee

How many candidates running for Congress this year can truthfully say they have cut spending in a federal agency and helped create private-sector jobs?

James Watkins, Republican nominee in Washington State’s 1st District, can. As a George Washington University graduate in the early 1990s, he did a stint at the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation. That was during the savings and loan crisis, when the FDIC was run by L. William Seidman.

“And if you knew anything about Bill Seidman, you understood he was first and foremost an accountant who based the size of an operation on the workload,” recalls Watkins. “And when the S&L crisis passed, he knew it was time to shrink the agency. So the FDIC went from having a staff of 20,000 to a core of about 5,000.”

From the FDIC, the young Watkins went into the technology business. He ran the Southeast region of Micromodeling Associates which did technology consulting for a wide range of startups and cutting edge companies.

When Watkins and his wife settled in her home state of Washington, he went to work for Microsoft. Running a start-up retail business with 50,000 small business customers, the young executive also became active in community affairs in Seattle. And now, at 50, first-time candidate Watkins is working to depose six-term Democratic Rep. Jay Inslee.

At the 150 town meetings and coffees he has held so far, Watkins is often asked the major difference between himself and Inslee (lifetime American Conservative Union rating: 8.87%). That’s an easy one for the conservative hopeful: “I’ve spent almost my entire adult life in business and he’s spent his life in politics. And it shows in our approach to key issues.”

Indeed, Inslee supported spending TARP money to bail out the auto industry and is not only a backer of cap and trade climate legislation but also wants a carbon tax to deal with alleged man-made global warming.

“In his book Apollo’s Fire,” notes Watkins, “my opponent discusses the virtues of a carbon tax, green jobs and wind and solar energy. I believe in alternative sources of energy but I also believe in using the resources we already have to produce traditional sources of energy. That means drilling for oil in a responsible way, developing natural gas resources, and bringing new sources of energy to market.”

But the three issues that Watkins is asked about most often are, in his words, “jobs, jobs, and jobs. My answer is to cut corporate and capital gains taxes and unleash the power of the free market to create private-sector jobs. What the stimulus package couldn’t do, the private sector will do.”

It has been a decade since 1st District Republicans waged a full-blown effort against Inslee and held him to 53% of the vote. Since then, the Democrat has coasted to re-election. Now he faces a vigorous opponent with impressive credentials and good ideas. All that is needed is for conservatives to make his campaign a priority, and then it’s a strong bet that Watkins will win.

(Citizens for Watkins, P. O. Box 677, Kirkland, Wash. 98083;


Chabot vs. Driehaus

Conservative Republican Steve Chabot has long been used to hard-fought campaigns. In 1988, Cincinnati City Councilman Chabot waged a strong-but-losing campaign against seven-term Democratic U.S. Rep. Tom Luken. In 1994, Chabot finally made it to Congress, beating the Democrat who then held the Luken seat. He compiled a good-as-Goldwater voting record (lifetime American Conservative Union rating: 98%) and served as one of the managers of the Clinton impeachment in 1999. 

“And I always withstood the Democratic onslaught,” he recalled, “until ’08 and Barack Obama came along.” There was such enthusiasm for the Democratic nominee, Chabot noted, that turnout in the Democratic precincts of the Buckeye State’s 1st District rose by as much as 30%. And, because of what he referred to as “Bush fatigue,” turnout in the Republican precincts dropped by about 10%.

For Steve Chabot, this added up to a heartbreakingly close loss at the hands of liberal Democrat Steve Driehaus.

But now it is 2010 and the dynamics of “Chabot-Driehaus II” are light years different from those of Bush-Era “Chabot-Driehaus I.” 

“The independent voters are just not going to be there for my opponent this time,” says Chabot. “They have lost faith in the administration’s ability to turn the economy around.”

Chabot is convinced those voters will identify that failure with Driehaus (lifetime ACU rating: 12%) because “my opponent is a rubber stamp for Barack Obama and Nancy Pelosi. He voted for the stimulus package that has done nothing for the economy, for the sky-high Obama-Pelosi budget, and, perhaps worst of all, for Obama-Pelosi health care.”

Assured by the White House that an executive order by the President was enough to ban tax dollars for abortions, Driehaus voted “yes” on the healthcare measure without having the abortion ban being written into the law.

“The ultimate betrayal” is what the pro-life Susan B. Anthony List calls that vote by Driehaus in its radio spots. And the National Right to Life Committee is also weighing in against the freshman lawmaker. Because of the strong reaction to that vote from the pro-life community in Cincinnati, Driehaus “may be a dead man,” concluded House GOP Leader John Boehner (Ohio).

Steve Chabot won’t go that far. Nor would anyone else who worked so hard to win a House seat, held it against repeated assaults and finally lost it. Now Chabot has the second chance he desperately wanted. But only with the determined help of fellow conservatives can he turn that chance into victory and once again be “Rep. Steve Chabot (R.-Ohio).”

(Chabot for Congress, 3339 Harrison Ave., Cincinnati, Ohio  45211; 513-481-9998;