5th District congressional primary most costly in Connecticut history
Andrew Roraback won the 5th District Republican primary
By Jordan Fenster, Staff Reporter
The primary election for the 5th District congressional race was the most expensive in the state’s history and one of the most costly in the nation this year, according to a group that tracks spending in federal races.
And there are those who believe the general election will follow suit — that money will pour in from special interest groups on both sides of the aisle, and the race will be marked by PAC-paid attack ads.
But there are those who believe that the election will be more about issues than the primary ever was.
The day after the primary was decided, in favor of Republican Andrew Roraback and Democrat Elizabeth Esty, both the National Republican Congressional Committee and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee issued scathing comments for and against the contenders.
“Andrew Roraback has the wrong priorities for Connecticut’s seniors and middle class in these tough economic times,” the DCCC said in a statement, mentioning what the committee said were Roraback’s policies on Bush-era tax cuts and reductions in Medicare.
“Andrew Roraback winning is the worst case scenario for Democrats,” the NRDC countered. ”The fact that a Democrat super PAC spent more than $200,000 in the Republican primary attacking Roraback, and the DCCC is attacking him before the ink dries on his primary victory, proves their utter desperation.”
“It’s going to be big,” Gary Rose, chairman of the Department of Government and Politics at Sacred Heart University, said of the general election in the 5th District.
“This is really going to be a race with a lot of national interest groups involved,” he said. ”The 5th is going to be the source of unbelievable coverage in the days ahead.”
But with both the major self-funders and the most controversial candidates out of the race, the tenor of the campaign will change, according to Nancy Johnson, the last Republican to hold the 5th District seat.
“Now we have a race between two capable legislators,” she said.
According to The Center for Responsive Politics, the 5th District race has been the fourth most expensive this year in the nation, behind Florida’s 18th District, Minnesota’s 6th District and John Boehner’s race for Ohio’s 18th District, where close to $16 million has already been spent.
There has been nearly $7 million spent so far in the 5th District, in a race driven largely by major self-funders.
Republican Mark Greenberg lost to Roraback by about 1,600 votes after spending more than $1.6 million of his own money on the race. Democrat Dan Roberti, who spent close to $1 million from his own personal coffers, found his campaign dogged by questions over the truth of his biography experience, and about his connections to lobbyists, through his father, well-known lobbyist Vin Roberti.
Republican Lisa Wilson-Foley, too, spent a significant sum on her own campaign, but found herself answering questions about her campaign’s relationship to former Gov. John G. Rowland, and a grand jury investigation that may be asking the same questions.
Roraback and Republican Justin Bernier each spent $25,000 in loans or donations to their own campaigns. Democrat Chris Donovan, alone among 5th District hopefuls, spent none of his own cash on the race.
But his campaign’s troubles became the centerpiece of coverage from both opponents and the media when two campaign employees were arrested and charged for allegedly breaking campaign finance law.
With those distractions out of the way, Johnson said the 5th District race could be seen as a bellwether for the presidential race, where the presumed Republican nominee, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, has named Wisconsin U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan as his running mate.
In the 5th District, the discussions will no longer be about campaign funding irregularities or which candidate has more money, just as the presidential race will be more about issues like Medicare and the national debt.
“This has a chance to be a really rich and interesting race,” Johnson said. “The 5th district race is going to mirror the discussions in the presidential race.”
However, “Romney’s decision to pick Paul Ryan might make Roraback’s job a little tougher,” said Vincent Moscardelli, associate political science professor at the University of Connecticut.
“If this reduces to a race about ideals, it’s not clear that there’s a lot of support for the National Republican Party’s positions on things like abortion, like welfare,” he said.
The tenor of the presidential race will certainly affect that in the 5th District, Moscardelli agreed, though he said it’s one of very few districts that might elect a Republican congressman.
“If this race is about the party, it probably benefits Esty. Esty wants this race to be about the party,” he said. “Roraback wants this race to be about him versus Esty.”
The DCCC already released a video linking Roraback’s policies to those of Ryan, and called Roraback a “Tea Party Republican.”
As a result, Moscardelli said Roraback will campaign on much the same platform as he has thus far, contrasting his 18 years of legislative experience to the lesser experience of his rivals.
“The alternative is, ‘I’m a Paul ryan Republican,’” Moscardelli said. “That’s untenable.”
The state Democratic Party has already chosen that tactic. In a prepared statement Wednesday, Nancy DiNardo, chairwoman of the Connecticut Democratic Party, began to draw battle lines.
“There are distinct differences between our party and the Republican Party; different visions for future of Connecticut and the country,” she said. “Now it’s time to unite around the ideas that bind us together: policies that give the middle class a fair shot at attaining the American dream — a roof over one’s head, the ability to educate one’s children, and access affordable health care.”
According to the chairman of Connecticut’s Republican State Central Committee, the contest in the 5th District will be a focus, for both Republicans in the state and in Washington D.C.
“It will be a targeted race by national Republicans and an absolute top priority for the Connecticut Republican party,” Jerry Labriola Jr. said. “The is no doubt that Sen. Roraback will be well-funded.”
Calling Roraback “a perfect fit for the 5th Congressional District,” Labriola also said the former state senator will “have very strong appeal to unaffiliated voters and Democrats.” “He may already have passed his toughest test,” he said.