Labriola, DiNardo agree: Don’t go to extremes in Connecticut’s 5th District
By Jordan Fenster, Staff Reporter
Apparently there’s one thing the leaders of Connecticut’s two major state party organizations can agree on – you can’t win the 5th District congressional seat this fall without strong appeal to unaffiliated voters.
They’re not taking sides in the respective contentious party nomination fights underway among three major Democrats and five Republicans in the race, but both Jerry Labriola Jr. and Nancy DiNardo would prefer a candidate who can appeal to moderates.
“It’s mathematically impossible to win on a statewide basis without attracting unaffiliated voters into our column,” said Labriola, chairman of the Connecticut Republican Party.
Though he has not issued his endorsement of any single candidate, and said, “We have five good candidates in the race,” Labriola said state Sen. Andrew Roraback is a “fiscal conservative” who “could very well attract some unaffiliated voters” because of his moderate positions on other issues.
Labriola also said former FBI agent and Farmington Town Council Chairman Mike Clark has “some centrist potential.”
“I don’t disagree with the premise that unaffiliated voters are needed to win the election,” said DiNardo, chairwoman of the Connecticut Democratic Party. “A candidate has to appeal to the unaffiliated voters, and not the extremes in either party.”
DiNardo did not address the merits or pitfalls of nominating any particular Democrat in the race for the 5th, but the party could face a similar dynamic. Connecticut Speaker of the House Chris Donovan has been vilified by business leaders in the state, and some supporters of Democratic nomination foe Elizabeth Esty have promoted her as a “moderate pro-business Democrat.”
When Secretary of the State Denise Merrill announced the most recent registration numbers in Connecticut, the news was not great for the GOP — 414,000 Republican voters in the state, with double that number, 828,000, of unaffiliated voters. And with 734,000 Democratic voters in Connecticut, Republicans may find it difficult to win come November.
But in the 5th District as of 2005, the last time the secretary of the state’s office released voter registration numbers district by district, Democrats had a much smaller edge, representing 29.63 percent of registered voters, compared to 24.54 percent for Republicans and 45.52 percent unaffiliated.
For Labriola, winning a general election will require a candidate who is “acceptable to the broad elements of our party.”
“You can’t do it without creating a center-right coalition,” he said.
DiNardo predicts that in building that “coalition” within the party, Connecticut Republicans will damage their eventual nominee, pushing someone such as Roraback, for example, away from the center.
“In order to win the primary, he’s going to be taking the Republican position,” DiNardo said.
“He has to win the primary, which will drive him to the right. I don’t see how Andrew, if he makes the primary, how he’s not going to support bad Republican public policies.”
It was not an example DiNardo cited, but Roraback voted against repeal of the death penalty last week after facing heavy criticism for his longtime past support of repeal from Lisa Wilson-Foley, an opponent for the 5th District nomination.
Labriola said that, whatever happens at the convention and primary, Republicans will have to coalesce if they hope to win.
“We’ll be united as a party in the 5th District,” he said.
UPDATE: The Connecticut Republican Party added a link to this story on its Facebook page Tuesday, and added this as a comment: “We are fortunate to have five great candidates running for the 5th Congressional seat. In addition to Sen. Andrew Roraback and Mike Clark mentioned in this article, Lisa Wilson-Foley, Mark Greenberg and Justin Bernier also carry a message of economic growth and fiscal responsibility that can energize our Republican base and attract unaffiliated voters.”