Dr. Larry Lazor, a West Hartford resident and an OB/GYN at Hartford Hospital, will be the first to admit he is running an uphill battle for the 1st Congressional District seat held by longtime incumbent John Larson.
But Lazor, who announced his candidacy over a year ago, believes this year in particular could be a real chance for the Republican Party to make inroads across the country.
“I think there is a great opportunity right now,” said Lazor. “People have an incredibly low confidence in Congress and the GOP has done very poor in New England over the last decade. I think there is an opportunity at this moment to push back on Democrat spending while reinvigorating the Republican base here in our state.”
In historically deep blue Connecticut, Democrats are polling on average worse than they have in years past, as high gas prices, the worst inflation in 40 years, the war in Ukraine and a persistent pandemic weigh on voters and President Joe Biden faces historically low approval ratings.
“Historically the incumbent party who controls the White House always has a tough road to climb,” said Dr. Ronald Schurin, associate professor of political science at UConn. “The economy is always the single biggest factor unless there is some huge national crisis. So it is going to be a difficult year overall for Democrats to overcome these obstacles.”
But the 1st Congressional District may be considered one of the safer races for Democrats.
“It would take a huge Republican wave to put Larson in any real jeopardy,” Schurin said. “Republicans will most likely fare better this time around but I do think it would be tough for any Republican to overcome the huge democratic majority in that district.”
It has been more than a decade since Connecticut elected a Republican to Congress, and over 30 years since one was elected to the U.S. Senate. But there is also significant pressure on John Larson, 73, this year as he faces challenges from both within and outside of his party.
Muad Hrezi, a young progressive Democrat from East Hartford, who failed to secure enough signatures within the required timeframe to force a primary, lost an effort in court to be placed on the ballot for a primary election but said he plans to appeal.
Hrezi, a former staffer for U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy who works as a teacher and track coach, raised nearly $500,000 as of the last filing in April.
“Larson has not had a primary challenge in 20 years,” said Lazor. “He hasn’t really had any major challenge since he’s been elected. So whether Hrezi is successful or not, he’s already given Larson more of a challenge than he’s ever had. But he could also run as a third party candidate, which would really throw a wrench in the election.”
But while Lazor may seem like just another GOP challenger to a longtime incumbent, the 60-year-old practicing physician said he wants people to know he’s different.
“Right now being different is what the voters want,” said Lazor. “They’re tired of the same old political talking heads. They’re tired of the same promises.”
According to the Secretary of State’s office, there are more than 1 million unaffiliated voters in the state. That number is higher than both Democrats at 905,268 registered voters and Republicans at 497,981 registered voters.
Lazor and his wife have lived in the Hartford area for more than 50 years and are parents of three children. Since 1990, he has been a physician at Hartford Hospital. Lazor believes his experience in health care can give him a unique perspective in segueing to a career in the U.S. House of Representatives.
“For the past 30 years, I sit with on average 25 patients every day and listen to their concerns and ask them how they are doing,” said Lazor. “So who is better at listening to residents in the district than a physician? I speak with all sorts of people from all walks of life. I treat both the richest and the poorest patients on an everyday basis. I don’t make a distinction in how I treat any of my patients. The same would apply to the constituents I serve.”
One of those patients is Dimaisha Jurado who had to be intubated due to COVID-19 while pregnant with her now 1-year-old child at Hartford Hospital in 2021. Jurado, who developed a collapsed lung due to the virus, turned over most of the decision making to Lazor.
“He’s my personal hero,” said Jurado. “There’s a lot I don’t remember from that time period because of the position I was in. But I know if it wasn’t for his quick thinking, my baby or myself might not be here today. I can’t tell people enough how much this man cares about his patients.”
Jurado credits Lazor’s skills and decision making in successfully delivering her son last May.
“He was born at just 28 weeks but he’s a healthy baby boy now,” said Jurado. “I am so thankful for having [Lazor] as my doctor.”
Lazor said stories like Jurado’s emphasize why he is running for Congress.
“It’s about helping people,” said Lazor. “It’s about making a difference.”
Lazor describes himself as a moderate Republican who is prochoice, supports gun control measures such as universal background checks, and believes the 2020 election was fair and legitimate.
“I support legal gun ownership,” said Lazor. “I have neighbors who have guns for hunting, self-defense and target practice. I’m fine with all that. But our country has a problem with gun violence.”
President Joe Biden recently signed into law the first major gun safety legislation passed by Congress in nearly 30 years, following mass shootings at a Texas elementary school that killed 19 children and two adults and another at a Buffalo, New York, supermarket that killed 10.
The legislation includes incentives for states to pass so-called red flag laws that allow groups to petition courts to remove weapons from people deemed a threat to themselves or others.
“I do believe that the red flag laws in place around the country are helping curb violence by taking guns out of the hands of people who should not own them, including those who are mentally unqualified to use a firearm” Lazor said. “I also support sensible gun control measures like background checks. These are common sense measures. I look at gun safety over gun control.”
Additionally the bill would expand background checks for prospective gun buyers between the ages of 18 and 21. The new process would incentivize states to provide access to previously sealed juvenile records and could add several days to the waiting period before a purchase can be completed.
“When you look at the majority of mass shootings in recent years, they tend to be young men,” Lazor said. “So that age group in particular is one that we want to emphasize weapons safety and really ensure that young people are buying guns for the right reasons.”
Larson this month voted in favor of the Federal Extreme Risk Protection Order Act, saying it “is commonsense legislation that will remove firearms from dangerous situations.”
Lazor also breaks with many Republicans on abortion rights. Lazor believes in the right of a woman to choose up to viability or generally 24 weeks. On Twitter, Lazor has promised if elected to “protect these rights the right way, through legislation.”
“I’ve been a physician caring for families and women for over 30 years and you see many situations that are very harsh,” said Lazor. “I’ve seen very young women get pregnant from being brutally assaulted and raped. I think those women should have a right to choose what they want to do with their own bodies.”
In May, Gov. Ned Lamont signed Public Act 22-19, a first-in-the-nation law that protects medical providers and patients seeking abortion care in Connecticut who may be traveling from other states that have outlawed abortion.
“The Republican Party needs to get away from this issue if it wants to be relevant in New England,” Lazor said. “This is an issue that is not a winner for the Republican Party in the long term. We need women in our base and the majority of women are pro-choice.”
Larson termed the court’s overturning of Roe v, Wade “shameful.”
He has said he is proud Connecticut has “taken action to protect the right to safe and legal abortion,” but the Senate must act so “the Women’s Health Protection Act must become law now.”
Lazor calls himself a fiscal Republican and believes that the biggest issue on the minds of voters is the current state of the economy. He says the Build Back Better legislative framework proposed by Biden and supported by Larson as a prime example of government overspending.
“If we don’t have a good environment for small businesses, we don’t have much room for anything else. Connecticut has been a high cost, high tax state for too long,” Lazor said. “On the federal level the overspending is out of control which is causing massive inflation.”
Biden’s watered-down $2 trillion dollar Build Back Better plan, which would have provided universal pre-K, expanded health care access, and created tax incentives for green energy, did not pass the Senate last December.
“Build Back Better is a perfect example. That plan was hugely expensive and hugely government controlled,” Lazor said. “That kind of overspending is directly contributing to the high inflation we’re seeing. Build Back Better luckily didn’t pass through Congress but imagine if it did? Imagine the inflation that kind of spending would cause? We need to reign in the spending.”
When he launched his bid in January for a 13th term, Larson said, “I’m proud of what we’ve been able to do just in this year whether it’s putting vaccinations in people’s arms, putting money back in their wallets, putting kids back in their school seats or putting people back to work, that’s what will continue to be our focus.”
The Larson campaign disputes Lazor’s portrayal of the economic package.
“Democrats put forward the most consequential investment in the middle class since the New Deal, including historic tax cuts for working Americans and families. I was proud to vote to advance tax provisions that invest in the American people, address wealth inequality, support clean energy investments that will help combat climate change and create well-paying jobs,” Larson said in a statement.
One of the main focuses of Larson’s campaign has been Social Security funding past the year 2034 when the trust fund is set to run out. Without a bill ensuring more funding, Social Security benefits will need to be cut an estimated 24% after that year.
Larson’s Social Security plan guaranteeing funding through 2038 was introduced last year and has nearly 200 co-sponsors across both houses of Congress.
To pay for those changes, the legislation calls for increasing Social Security taxes paid by higher-wage earners. In 2021, those taxes are capped at $142,800 in wages, and in 2022 that will rise to $147,000. The proposal also reapplies taxes on wages at $400,000 and up.
“The pandemic has only underscored what we already knew and has exacerbated systemic inequities — current benefits are not enough,” Larson has said. “Five million seniors are living in poverty due to longstanding discrimination in the labor force that affects mostly people of color and women. These are our sisters, brothers, aunts, uncles, and neighbors. For too long, Congress has forsaken its duty to enhance benefits. With 10,000 Baby Boomers a day becoming eligible, and with Millennials needing Social Security more than any generation, the time for Congress to act is now.”