Five reasons Andrew Roraback lost Connecticut’s 5th District

By Matt DeRienzo, mderienzo@journalregister.com

When a race is as close as last night’s vote for Connecticut 5th District Congress seat, it’s easy to point back to a number of potential factors that could have swung the outcome in favor of the losing candidate.

With all but the town of Woodbury reporting, Elizabeth Esty defeated Andrew Roraback, 144,687 to 136,599, or 51.4 to 48.6 percent.

Here are five factors that contributed to Roraback’s defeat:

1. Linda McMahon. As results from the cities began to come in Tuesday night and momentum shifted in Esty’s direction, Roraback supporters gathered in Torrington started blaming the former World Wrestling Entertainment CEO’s unpopularity for “dragging down” the Republican ticket and harming Roraback’s chances.

Some would argue that McMahon has now cost Republicans at least two major down-ticket offices. Republican Tom Foley’s loss to Gov. Dannel Malloy was so razor-thin two years ago that it’s likely he would have been victorious if not for the strong anti-Linda McMahon Democratic turnout in cities.

Elizabeth Esty celebrates at a victory party with supporters in Waterbury Tuesday night after being elected as Connecticut’s next congresswoman from the 5th District. To her left is husband Dan, and to her right is Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy and Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman.

A similar dynamic happened this year, in which Chris Murphy’s get-out-the-vote effort in Meriden, Waterbury, New Britain and Danbury almost certainly helped carry Esty to the margins she needed in those cities to offset Roraback’s strength in the suburban and rural parts of the 5th District.

A Super PAC-funded TV ad that supported McMahon and Roraback at the same time might have actually hurt Roraback by linking his candidacy to hers. She was unpopular with female voters and ultimately failed to swing independents into her column. Roraback has a long track record of supporting women’s rights, but a key part of Esty’s campaign was to paint him as “just another vote for Republican extremists.”

Roraback was asked at one point late in the campaign if he’d considered running a TV ad touting independent voters who were backing him and Murphy – a takeoff on McMahon’s now-infamous attempt to let voters know it was OK to support her and President Obama.

2. Linda McMahon. At the same time that McMahon’s public image may have dragged Roraback down, he did not seem to benefit from the $47 million she poured into a massive campaign staff and statewide field operation. Roraback lacked the campaign war-chest and organization and did not open grassroots field offices around the district like McMahon and other candidates. The result was that McMahon did 5,000 or so votes better combined than Roraback in the cities of Danbury, Waterbury, New Britain and Meriden, where he had little chance of winning as a Republican, but needed to close the margin of defeat more than he did.

3. National politics vs. Connecticut politics. If Roraback had faced Esty two years ago, without the presidential election at the top of the ticket, the outcome could have been different. Turnout would have been smaller the cities, where a lot of “straight Democrat” ballots were cast, and Roraback would have had an easier time focusing on the issues that were strongest for him. Tom Foley won the 5th District convincingly in Connecticut’s race for governor in 2010, and the Republican hope all along was that Roraback would be able to duplicate that success by capitalizing on Gov. Dannel Malloy’s unpopularity and his record of fighting Malloy and Democrats in the Connecticut General Assembly. From the very start of the general election campaign, however, Esty and surrogates hit the airwaves to tie Roraback to national Republicans and steer the debate to national issues such as Social Security. After Speaker of the House John Boehner visited Torrington to host a fundraiser for Roraback, Esty used his ties to Boehner in an ad aired thousands of times leading up to the election.

4. A late start, a bruising primary and outside money. Ultimately, Roraback’s defeat came down to the fact that he wasn’t well-known outside of his state Senate district in Northwest Connecticut, and with help and funding from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and other outside groups, Esty was able to introduce him to independent voters in the rest of the district in a negative way before he was able to define himself.

Roraback was unable to emphasize his independent streak and progressive positions on abortion, gay marriage, the environment and other issues in a Republican primary against three well-funded candidates, including two millionaires, who were all running to his right and attempting to paint him as too liberal for the Republican Party. And Democrats helped by jumping in to manipulate that primary with Super PAC ads deceptively attacking him from the right.

Roraback was left on the day after the August primary with no money, and the rest of the district’s first introduction to him was negative TV ads.

Super PACs and national party operatives helped both candidates in this race, matching millions for millions, but Roraback’s help came much later in the cycle, whereas the DCCC was helping Esty right out of the gate.

5. Waterbury and Danbury.The bottom line is that Esty won this race in Waterbury. She invested a lot of time in the city, predicted that it would come down to it, and it did. Her 2 to 1, 8,000-vote margin in Waterbury was a huge improvement over Murphy’s 2,000-vote margin two years ago. The difference, in addition to Esty’s attention to the city, was that two years ago, former Waterbury city councilor and state Sen. Sam Caligiuri was the Republican nominee, and this year, the presidential election boosted turnout in the city.

Republican Andrew Roraback, with his wife Kara, makes his concession speech at the Backstage Restaurant in Torrington as he loses to opponent Democrat Elizabeth Esty in the 5th Congressional District on election night Tuesday. Photo by Peter Hvizdak / New Haven Register

Another factor was Danbury, which has a Republican mayor and where the GOP has been capable in past years of at least keeping it close. Esty won by nearly 4,000 votes there.

Both results beg the question of why local Republicans weren’t more effective in helping Roraback. Caligiuri is a former Senate colleague of Roraback’s and friend who endorsed him early in the Republican primary for the 5th District, but he was not very visible in the general election.

And the other two heavyweights in these two cities, former Gov. John “Waterbury is the Center of the Universe” Rowland and Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton, were heavily involved in backing scandal-plagued Roraback primary foe Lisa Wilson-Foley.

Even if it was offered, it’s unlikely that Roraback wanted Rowland’s help after he embarrassed him on his Hartford radio show during the primary without revealing that he was helping Wilson-Foley and secretly being paid by her husband’s company.

And Boughton, a potential 2014 Republican candidate for the 5th District himself, was not very visible in getting out the vote for Roraback.

REGISTER CITIZEN EDITORIAL: Roraback ‘too moderate’ to be effective? Give us a break

Consumed by partisanship, a disease all too common among politicians in the heat of an election season, 5th District Congressman Chris Murphy has been sending mixed messages.

Chris Murphy in his 2006 run for Congress (AP Photo/George Ruhe)

Murphy said last week that state Sen. Andrew Roraback (R-Goshen) “would be irrelevant” if elected to succeed him in Congress.

Because Andrew Roraback is an extremist who will be marginalized? No. The opposite.

Because Roraback refuses to work with other legislators? No way. Murphy himself has singled out Roraback with praise for doing that.

In a twisting of logic only made possible by the “say anything, do anything” rules of getting your own party followers elected, Murphy is actually arguing that Roraback is too moderate, too reasonable, too independent, too bipartisan to be effective in Congress.

And this logic is coming from the chairman of the House “Center Aisle Caucus.” It promotes bipartisanship and problem solving by bringing members of Congress from both parties together to engage in and promote civil dialogue.

Andrew Roraback speaks after winning the Republican nomination for Connecticut’s 5th District Congressional race. Wife Kara Dowling-Roraback looks on. (New Haven Register/Peter Casolino)

It’s coming from a guy who praised Roraback during his bid for re-election in 2008 as a state senator who was extremely effective despite party affiliation because he was moderate and because he continually reached across the aisle to craft solutions on various issues.

Murphy and Roraback served together in the Connecticut Senate prior to Murphy’s election to Congress. His comments in 2008 came in contrasting Roraback with David Cappiello, another Republican state senator who was Murphy’s opponent for Congress that year.

Democrats would bristle if we suggested that perhaps they’re having trouble finding arguments against voting for Andrew Roraback this fall. That they haven’t quite figured out how to get around his popularity among independents and Democrats in the area in and near his state Senate district in Northwest Connecticut.

Yet Democrats went so far as to air deceptive Super PAC TV ads in the Republican primary that accused Roraback of being too liberal, hoping to flip the nomination to a social conservative who would be easier to beat in the general election.

And 48 hours later, they were putting out press releases and videos describing Roraback as a “Tea Party Republican” who is too conservative for the 5th District. In fact, Roraback enraged the Tea Party by being the only Republican candidate to refuse to take Grover Norquist’s “no tax increase ever” pledge.

Murphy’s argument that Roraback would not make a good 5th District congressman because he’s more reasonable and moderate and willing to work with anyone than the average Republican in Congress seems as bizarrely partisan as the Super PAC and “Tea Party” hits.

“That is so stupid,” is how former Congressman Christopher Shays put it. “The most relevant person is the moderate because they’re important to both sides.”

Shays knows something about being a moderate out of step with party leadership.

In fact, he said, being a moderate Republican can work better for a congressman who has few colleagues in the party in a particular region – say, New England, where two New Hampshire representatives are the only Republicans in the House. It makes you somewhat “immune” from reprisals when you vote against your own party.

He shot back at Murphy as someone who has “voted 95 percent of the time with Nancy Pelosi.”

“I guess he thinks you have to do that,” Shays said.

What would be refreshing is if Democrats acknowledged what they’ve all said privately about Roraback for many years, and what his neighbors in Northwest Connecticut know to be true. He is a moderate, he is a nice guy, and he does have a track record of bipartisanship.

With that out of the way, the fact is, there are numerous and clear differences between Elizabeth Esty and Andrew Roraback on the issues. You could start with President Obama’s Affordable Care Act. She would expand it. He would repeal it. Federal stimulus. Taxes. And so forth.

Put aside the political hacksmanship and tell us how Elizabeth Esty would help lead the country out of difficult economic times and how Andrew Roraback’s approach contrasts with that.

REGISTER CITIZEN EDITORIAL: If Working Families is a real political party, why wouldn’t it run against Esty?

The big story in the wake of Connecticut’s Aug. 14 5th District Congress primary has been Speaker of the House Chris Donovan’s silence on the potential that he’ll stay in the race as the nominee of the Working Families Party.

Juan Figueroa, a 2010 Democratic candidate for governor, and other “progressives” have urged Donovan to stay in the race following his loss to Elizabeth Esty in the Democratic primary.

Esty, they say, hasn’t “stood up for working families,” supported compromise “Republican” budgets when she served as a state representative and has not been outspoken or detailed about where she stands on issues important to progressives.

Donovan, on the other hand, has pushed for aggressive increases in the state and federal minimum wage, has fought to expand low- and middle-income families’ access to health care, and has been one of the legislature’s strongest advocates for stronger bargaining rights for labor unions.

The Working Families Party endorsed Donovan before he lost the Democratic primary, and now it’s solely up to Donovan whether he stays on the ballot as the Working Families’ candidate.

The party hasn’t urged him to run, though, and its supporters have privately used the words “long shot” and “spoiler” in discussing the possibility.

Connecticut AFL-CIO President John Olsen said Monday that Donovan should remove his name and unite behind the Democratic Party nominee.

The whole thing raises these questions:

If Esty doesn’t represent the views of the Working Families Party, why wouldn’t the party run its own candidate against her – preferably Donovan, who has a strong progressive following and could get them the most votes, but if not, someone else?

If the Working Families Party feels this way about Esty but doesn’t run someone against her – or even chooses to come around and endorse her after Donovan withdraws his name, is it really a separate political party?

Leaders of the party, which was launched by labor union officials in New York in 1998 and has spread to Connecticut, Massachusetts and a handful of other states, will insist that of course it’s a real party.

But evidence points strongly to a different conclusion. That the Working Families Party is a vehicle for labor to put leftward pressure on the Democratic Party, but that it is not intended to be, nor does it function as, true competition to Democrats.

It gained “official minor party status” in Connecticut because state law allows parties to “cross-endorse.” That means Dan Malloy’s name was listed twice on the November 2010 ballot for governor, under the Democratic line and the Working Families Party line.

Because 26,308 people filled in the Malloy circle on the Working Families line, the party obtained official status. Malloy’s Working Families’ votes and Democratic Party votes were added together to give him a thin margin of victory over Republican Tom Foley.

The Working Families Party has rarely run its own candidates in recent years, even more rarely running when a Democrat is in the race. Instead, it has “cross-endorsed” Democrats running for the legislature, governor, Congress and U.S. Senate.

And Connecticut Secretary of the State Denise Merrill has made it clear that Working Families Party and Democratic Party votes are one and the same when it comes to cross-endorsed candidates if the Democrat wins. She has rejected the rationale behind a Republican lawsuit claiming that Tom Foley earned Republicans the top ballot line in 2012 by receiving more Republican votes than Malloy received Democratic votes.

In the eyes of the state, Working Families Party votes count as Democratic votes. The two lines should be added together, Merrill says, and count toward Democrats when determining ballot position.

There’s a perception that the Working Families Party is a minor, but substantial bloc of voters because Malloy received more those 26,308 votes.

But a check of statewide voter rolls shows that only 164 people in the entire state of Connecticut are registered Working Families Party members. That’s less than the “Concerned Citizens Party,” whatever that is, and represents .008 percent of Connecticut’s nearly 2 million registered voters.

If this labor union/Democratic Party front group truly is a real, separate political party, it should prove it and run its own candidate in the 5th District this fall.

SUSAN CAMPBELL: The tale of a Missouri Republican and the magic uterus

I’d like to add a few words to 5th District congressional candidate Andrew Roraback’s condemnation of U.S. Rep. Todd Akin.

Akin is a Missouri Republican who is running for U.S. Senate against Democratic incumbent Claire McCaskill.

Total disclosure: I am from the Great State of Missouri (Webb City, Mo., population 10,996: SaLUTE!), and I am watching the campaigns out there with more than a passing interest.

On Sunday, Akin was asked on St. Louis television if he supports legal abortions for women who have been raped. Not satisfied to put his foot in his mouth, Rep. Akin managed to stick his whole leg in there, and part of his torso, as well. He said (you can watch it yourself, here: http://bit.ly/P82p4h): “It seems to me first of all from what I understand from doctors that’s really rare. If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down,”

I want to meet this magic uterus because from what I understand from doctors it can also predict the weather, and issue winning lottery numbers.

And then I want to ask dumb-as-a-box-of-hair Akin which doctors he canvassed for his information, so that I and all members of my family – nuclear and extended – can give them wide berth when we need medical care. Shut that whole thing down, indeed.

Understandably, the world cried foul. Someone thought to create a fake Twitter account for “Legitimate Rape” with Akin’s picture, with tweets like this: “Legitimate Rape should not be confused with Asking For It Rape and Had It Coming Rape. Consult a misogynist for details.”

Later on Sunday Akin tried to explain himself, and said that he regretted “misspeaking,” which is not the same as an apology, or even an acknowledgement. It’s more like walking past a store window, throwing a rock through the window, going around the block, and then returning to say, “Hey! That window’s broken.” Besides that lame statement, Akin was not specific as to whether he misspoke about the Fabulous Uterus, or the legitimate rape part. Because if there are legitimate rapes, does that mean there also are illegitimate ones? I’m confused. Maybe I should ask my uterus, which, according to Rep. Akin, has skills I never imagined.

Roraback is pro-choice. He won the Republican primary last week after taking a few shots during the campaign for that stance, including a weird television ad from Republican challenger Justin Bernier, who took Roraback to task for not supporting a ban on gender-selective abortion. It was a silly ad about a non-issue and it wasn’t effective, anyway.

Roraback calls himself a New England Republican, something along the lines of Maine’s Olympia Snowe, who is stepping down – or Connecticut’s Chris Shays, a Republican who was defeated in last week’s primary by Linda McMahon, former wrestling impresario and a new breed of Republican altogether.

Roraback, called Akin’s statement “reckless,” “insensitive,” and “offensive.”  Others were harsher and asked that Akin step out of the race. I’m betting he won’t.

Missouri has nine U.S. representatives. Six – including Akin — get a 100% rating from the National Right to Life Committee. (You can check your favorite congressperson’s ratings here: http://bit.ly/PpDAE7)  Lifenews.com says Akin’s only “pro-life misstep” (as he’s pushed to defund Planned Parenthood and repeal Obamacare) came in 2003, “when he voted against the passage of the Medicare Modernization Act, which protected against involuntary denial of medical treatment to senior citizens.”

Roraback has a 100 percent rating of his own – from NARAL Pro-Choice America, in 2000, though he is now listed as “mixed-choice.” (There’s more on that here: http://bit.ly/MspdOX) There is no shortage of ridiculous when it comes to campaigns, and maybe we can take comfort that that’s not true just of the Fighting Fifth, either, where a few folks are calling for Chris Donovan, who was defeated last week by Elizabeth Esty, to run as an independent. That would pit Donovan, Esty, and Roraback. Tacking independent worked for Lowell P. Weicker, another (former) New England Republican, and it worked for Joseph I. Lieberman, Party of One.

All in all? This campaign is starting to get interesting. Believe I’ll take my uterus out for a beer.

Susan Campbell is an award-winning author of “Dating Jesus” and former columnist at the Hartford Courant. Her new biography, “Tempest-Tossed: The Spirit of Isabella Beecher Hooker,” is coming soon. Follow her blog at http://datingjesus.wordpress.com/.

Andrew Roraback condemns Missouri congressman’s ‘legitimate rape’ remark

Staff and Associated Press Report

Republican 5th District Congress candidate Andrew Roraback had strong words of condemnation Sunday night for Republican Missouri Congressman Todd Akin over comments he made suggesting that women don’t get pregnant from “legitimate rape.”

Andrew Roraback (Register Citizen Photo/Rick Thomason)

“This is the most reckless, insensitive and offensive statement I’ve ever heard,” Roraback said. “As a husband, as a son, those are my sentiments.”

Akin, a six-term congressman running against incumbent Democrat Sen. Claire McCaskill, was asked in an interview that aired Sunday on St. Louis television station KTVI if he would support abortions for women who have been raped.

“It seems to me first of all from what I understand from doctors that’s really rare,” Akin said. “If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down,” Akin said of a rape victim’s chances of becoming pregnant.

He also said he would prefer that punishment for rape be focused on the rapist and not “attacking the child.”

The “legitimate rape” remark touched off an instant firestorm of criticism and led to immediate calls for Akin to drop out of the Senate race.

Asked what should happen to Akin, Roraback said, “I’ve got all I can handle focusing on the race for the 5th District. All I’m prepared to do is condemn in the strongest possible terms such an outrageous statement.”

Roraback was attacked by two of his Republican opponents during the campaign leading up to his Aug. 14 primary victory for supporting abortion rights.

Justin Bernier, who placed fourth, took the rare step in Connecticut of airing a TV ad devoted to the issue in which he blasted Roraback for saying he would not support a law that would ban “gender-selection” abortions because it’s unconstitutional. The ad showed Roraback’s face with Bernier’s own daughter on a park swing in the background with a voiceover saying that Roraback supported aborting babies “just because they’re girls.”

Roraback and others criticized the Bernier ad for being misleading. Gender-selection abortion isn’t an issue that anyone has noted in the United States, and Roraback does not support the practice, just said he can’t vote for a law that was unconstitutional and might erode a woman’s overall right to choose.

“I’m pro-choice,” Roraback said Sunday. “That’s been my position throughout my career and it’s not going to change as a member of Congress.”

Akin said in an emailed statement later Sunday that he “misspoke” during the interview, though the statement did not say specifically which points.

“In reviewing my off-the-cuff remarks, it’s clear that I misspoke in this interview and it does not reflect the deep empathy I hold for the thousands of women who are raped and abused every year,” Akin’s statement said. “Those who perpetrate these crimes are the lowest of the low in our society and their victims will have no stronger advocate in the Senate to help ensure they have the justice they deserve.”

Follow our 5th District coverage on Twitter @5thDistrictCT or Facebook @CT5thDistrict.

Activists urge Chris Donovan to stay in 5th District race as third-party candidate

By Matt DeRienzo, Staff Reporter

A well-known Democratic Party activist and a national progressive organization are urging Connecticut Speaker of the House Chris Donovan to remain in the race for 5th District Congress as a third-party candidate.

Candidates for Connecticut governor, from the left, Democrat Juan Figueroa, and Republican Thomas Foley, participate in a candidates forum in Stamford, Conn., Friday. Feb. 26, 2010. (AP Photo/Thomas Cain)

Juan Figueroa, president of the Universal Health Care Foundation of Connecticut and a brief candidate for governor in 2010, said Donovan should remain on the ballot under the Working Families Party line and campaign “until Elizabeth Esty proves she will fight for working families.”

An email from Figueroa was sent out over the weekend to supporters of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, a national organization allied with MoveOn.Org that supported Donovan’s failed bid for the Democratic nomination in the 5th District.

Meanwhile, Al Robinson, who runs the progressive Connecticut politics blog, “My Left Nutmeg,” took to Twitter to openly suggest that labor union activists and progressives were talking about sitting out the general election in the hopes of coming back in 2014 with a more progressive Democratic nominee.

“In short, it would be harder to get rid of a Lieberman (Democrat) than a (Republican), especially if losing a seat won’t make a difference,” Robinson said, referencing the fact that it’s unlikely Democrats will come anywhere close to being able to win back control of the House. “Many argue that a Lieberman (Democrat) would do more damage than a (Republican) we could get rid of in 2014.”

Elizabeth Esty arrives at her campaign gathering on primary night Aug. 14, 2012

“I see no indication that unions will get in line. I see every indication that a whisper campaign against Esty has already started,” Robinson wrote. “When union(s), state lawmakers, people (you) need for (get out the vote), and (Democratic Town Committees) in (the 5th District) are trashing Esty privately, we have a problem.”

Roraback is seen as the Republicans’ best chance in years of regaining the 5th District seat. He is a fiscal conservative but progressive on social issues and the environment, and has been extremely popular among Democrats and independents in his rural Northwest Connecticut state Senate district..

Figueroa said a Democratic candidate “will have no chance of winning unless they campaign on popular, progressive principles – like promising no cuts to Social Security and Medicare.”

“On many of core issues of importance to working families, Elizabeth Esty’s position is unclear — hurting Democrat’s chances in November,” Figueroa said. :Chris clearly opposed any cuts to Medicare and Social Security benefits, including raising the retirement age and means testing. He addressed our broken democracy by supporting a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United and a federal version of Connecticut’s Clean Elections law. And he stood up for unions and pledged to support the Employee Free Choice Act.”

Donovan has continued to dominate headlines since Esty’s upset victory Aug. 14 over speculation that he’d run on the Working Families Party ticket. The party has endorsed him and said prior to the primary that it would be up to Donovan to withdraw his name should he lose the Democratic primary, or to press forward with a longshot bid that could ultimately just split the Democratic vote and hand the election to Roraback.

Donovan was the only one of five losing primary candidates not to immediately endorse and express support for their party’s nominee.

He did not mention Esty in his concession speech last week, and has not talked to the media since, his staff saying that he was “going on vacation” and wouldn’t address the Working Families Party issue until after he returned.

Email Matt DeRienzo at mderienzo@journalregister.com. Follow our 5th District coverage on Twitter @5thDistrictCT or Facebook @CT5thDistrict.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story said that My Left Nutmeg blogger Al Robinson suggested on Twitter that progressives might sit out the general election or vote for Andrew Roraback. The Roraback part was never mentioned directly by Robinson and was speculation on my part. It has been removed from the story.

REGISTER CITIZEN EDITORIAL: Opportunity for a different kind of race in 5th District

One of the nastiest and most circus-like campaigns Connecticut has seen in a congressional primary could transition into the model for a civil and cerebral general election matchup.

No, really.

Andrew Roraback and Elizabeth Esty have a unique opportunity to wage a different type of campaign this fall in the 5th District.

First let’s briefly look back on the road from which they’re departing.

The field of seven candidates for the Republican and Democratic nominations in the 5th featured two campaigns that prompted ongoing federal grand jury investigations. There was the 30-year-old Democrat who lied about his very thin resume but thanks to his lobbyist father had millions of dollars to spend and the endorsement of former President Bill Clinton. He delayed his personal finance disclosure until the night before the election, and a Super PAC supporting him kept its donors secret until after the primary. One Republican ran a TV ad suggesting that one of his rivals favored aborting his baby daughter just because she’s a girl. Another put out a vicious last-minute attack ad and mailer lying (by omission) about a fellow candidate’s record as a real estate developer. A Democrat-funded Super PAC pretending to be a conservative organization aired attack ads accusing a Republican candidate of being too liberal in order to manipulate the outcome of the Republican primary.

And in both parties, the 5th District primary this year was a competition of who could race fastest and farthest to the extreme left- and right wings of their respective party. “I hate Obamacare more than you do!” “I wanted to raise taxes on millionaires more than she did!”

But something funny happened on the way to the ballot box.

Voters soundly rejected the candidates with ethics issues. The worst personal attacks found no traction. Big money, out-of-state attempts to influence the vote went nowhere. Voters moved to the center, not the extremes of their parties.

In Esty and Roraback, they chose the two smartest candidates in the field. They were the two candidates most likely to answer a question about public policy with the nuance it deserves. They were the two candidates most likely to have some knowledge and facts to back up what they were saying. And they were among the “cleanest” candidates in terms of personal background and the way in which they conducted their campaigns.

Wouldn’t it be amazing if they got together, early and often, for some long, detailed debates on health care, taxes, job creation and the role of government, and didn’t stray into personal attacks or hyperbole?

There’d be plenty of opportunity within that framework for Esty and Roraback to distinguish themselves. Just listen to each of them talk about the Affordable Care Act, or federal stimulus, and you’ll see how different their approach to the job would be.

Imagine a campaign that focuses on those differences instead of trumped up personal smears.

The pairing of Elizabeth Esty and Andrew Roraback presents one of the best opportunities Connecticut and the country have of this kind of dialogue happening. For it to happen, the candidates must not only conduct themselves this way, but stand up and condemn and call off their own party’s leadership when it makes the kind of attacks that are already coming out of the DCCC and NRCC.

It would be such a refreshing, beneficial gesture to the voters of the district they want to represent if they did.

LABOR’S LAST STAND? Donovan’s fall could shift Connecticut’s Democratic base

By Matt DeRienzo, Staff Reporter

Top Democrats in Connecticut saw a train wreck coming if Chris Donovan won the party’s nomination for 5th District Congress. But they were ready to let it happen.

Gov. Dannel Malloy, Attorney General George Jepsen, Congressman Chris Murphy, the rest of the delegation, and others, were paralyzed by their dependence on future support from the state’s labor unions. Their fear, and it was no doubt well-placed, was that turning on Donovan would be perceived as turning on labor. So they stayed out of it. Even as the FBI swooped in to arrest more of his campaign staff. Even as the language in indictments brought the scandal closer to the candidate himself.

Connecticut AFL-CIO 9th Biennial Political Convention in Hartford. Left to right: 5th District congressional Democratic primary candidates Chris Donovan, Elizabeth Esty, and Dan Roberti. (New Haven Register Photo/Mara Lavitt)

Elizabeth Esty’s decisive victory on Tuesday night could change that dynamic in Connecticut. Labor did not come through for Donovan as predicted. He didn’t even win Waterbury or Danbury. His margin in New Britain was only 300 votes. And Esty completely dominated the suburbs and small towns.

By double digits, Democratic primary voters said that the values MoveOn.Org and labor called “Republican-like” were their values, too. And “the only candidate who has stood up for working families” lost by a 2-to-1 margin, when you include Dan Roberti’s vote total in the anti-Donovan tally.

A career labor union organizer and the movement’s biggest and most powerful single support in the Connecticut General Assembly in recent memory, Donovan was figuratively and literally “their guy.”

Labor, stretching down into the grassroots across the state, was so loyal and so enmeshed with Donovan that leadership was blind to the reality of the situation. That it’s pretty tough to win an election when your closest advisers are being arrested by the FBI, there’s an ongoing federal investigation hanging over your head, and the accusation is that you were willing to kill legislation in exchange for campaign cash.

They were blind to the fact that your chances of winning a swing district like the 5th are tough to begin with when, in a year when it’s all about jobs and the economy, you can offer no message whatsoever to small businessmen, manufacturers and employers other than that the government should step in and make sure they’re paying their workers more and encouraging them to unionize.

And perhaps labor’s blindness to Donovan’s faults goes back and stretches beyond his flawed and possibly corrupt bid for Congress.

In the final days before the primary, retiring state Rep. Linda Schofield, who’d already backed Elizabeth Esty in the primary and had nothing to lose, painted a picture of a Donovan whose inattention as speaker allowed paid staff members to capriciously control Connecticut lawmaking and whose vengeance squashed those who fell out of line with his often one-track agenda.

Surely Gov. Malloy had some things to say in private about Speaker Donovan’s obstruction of his signature education reform legislation this year, or Donovan’s petty decision to kill a bipartisan Senate jobs bill because they wouldn’t support his minimum wage increase.

Is it possible that there’s a legion of Democrats in the General Assembly who share Schofield’s take, but suffer from the same paralysis that plagued Malloy and Murphy in the 5th District primary? The fear that they would lose union support, or worse, be marked for political death among the Democratic “base,” for crossing labor … I mean, Donovan.

Just as Donovan’s ascension to power and candidacy-that-could-not-be-questioned was a sign of labor’s dominance over the Democratic base in Connecticut, his stunning defeat on Tuesday night is a spectacular weakening of that stranglehold.

Few were willing to go out on a limb for Esty in this year’s 5th District primary, but her victory makes it feel a lot more safe to cross the labor machine in the future.

And perhaps more significant in the short term, Donovan’s fall, the taint of corruption and Schofield’s allegations against the speaker’s office put Gov. Malloy in a much stronger position to advance a reform agenda with the next legislature.

Email Matt DeRienzo at mderienzo@journalregister.com. Follow our 5th District coverage on Twitter @5thDistrictCT or Facebook @CT5thDistrict.

Chris Donovan celebrates with staffer Gus Melita as the votes come in securing his Democratic nomination for Connecticut's 5th Congressional District at Rotella Interdistrict Magnet School in Waterbury. (New Haven Register Photo/Peter Casolino)

Elizabeth Esty wins Democratic 5th District Congress primary


Elizabeth Esty upset Connecticut Speaker of the House Chris Donovan to win the Democratic primary for Connecticut’s 5th District Congress seat Tuesday night.

She led 45 to 32 percent, with all 142 precincts reporting. A last-minute endorsement from former President Bill Clinton didn’t do much for Dan Roberti, who finished third at 23 percent.

It was a stunning defeat for Donovan, once considered a shoo-in for the Democratic nomination and a favorite in the general election. That was before his former campaign manager and finance director were arrested with six others in an alleged scheme to trade campaign cash for killing legislation in the Connecticut House. Donovan resisted calls to drop out of the race, maintaining his innocence.

Esty will face Republican Andrew Roraback, who also defeated a candidate, Lisa Wilson-Foley, whose campaign is facing a federal grand jury investigation.

Like Roraback, Esty wasted no time in reaching out to unaffiliated voters, who outnumber both Republicans and Democrats in the 5th District.

“People are looking for common sense approaches that are not based on ideology,” she said. “They don’t care what the letter is after the name on the ballot.”

While Esty put out negative TV ads and mailings attacking Donovan, she was not as strident in her criticism as Roberti, which some saw as a clear effort not to alienate Donovan’s strong labor union base. Unions and progressive organizations including MoveOn.Org remained loyal to Donovan despite the campaign finance scandal and arrests.

“You have to respect them for sticking with him. He has a 20-year track record with them,” she said. “But I’ve reached out to (state AFL-CIO head) John Olsen and others. I’m confident they will work hard with us because they want to keep the seat Democratic.”

Donovan conceded Tuesday night without mentioning Esty.

“While I won’t be the Democratic nominee in November, I will continue fighting for the progressive causes we’ve fought for,” he told supporters in Meriden. “Now more than ever we need to pass campaign finance reform … We need to keep fighting for our president and the things that matter.”

Donovan refused to speak to reporters following his speech. His campaign staff downplayed speculation that he could press forward with a third-party candidacy on the Working Families Party line in the general election. The Working Families Party has endorsed him, and Donovan and the party have a few weeks to decide whether to switch that endorsement to Esty or another candidate or no one.

In contrast to Donovan, Roberti offered strong and unqualified support for Esty.

“I’m going to out there I’m going to do everything I can to elect Elizabeth Esty to the United States Congress for the 5th district,” he said, “because as Democrats, we need to persevere, we need to take the House back, we need to protect this seat we had a spirited battle, a spirited debate over the last year and a half, but now it’s time to come together and so all of you who put so much energy into my candidacy, I am asking you from the bottom of my heart, it’s time to persevere and go out there and put the same amount of effort into her campaign…”

Roberti told a room full of supporters in Waterbury “the message of this campaign is to persevere” as his mother had for six years while fighting melanoma. His mother died Saturday at age 60, leading Roberti to curtail campaign appearances in the final days before the primary.

Roberti arrived with a group of volunteers, making his way from the street, hugging or shaking hands with every volunteer outside his campaign headquarters, or waiting inside the building.
Roberti thanked his family, supporters, his mother and father and his girlfriend.

“I lost my mom over the weekend, but she preserved for six years in the face of extreme adversity. When they gave her two months to live she kept going, and that’s the lesson of this campaign, is to persevere,” he said.

Roberti referenced news articles suggesting that he lied about his resume and questioning why he was keeping his personal finances secret until the night before the election.

“They attacked my character, but we know we know … the truth, and as long as you know in your heart what the truth is you’re going to get through all of that,” he said.

Esty’s victory is also a victory for Emily’s List, which supports female pro-choice Democrats running for Congress. It took on a high-profile and unusual battle with another powerhouse of national Democratic politics, MoveOn.Org, that is typically an ally. It got nasty as Emily’s List’s Super PAC spent hundreds of thousands of dollars in the 5th District attacking Donovan over the federal grand jury investigation and his record as speaker of the house.

Roberti also had a Super PAC attacking opponents on his behalf. “New Directions for America,” which maneuvered to keep its donors secret until after the election, spent nearly half a million on TV ads attacking Esty and Donovan.

Roberti’s father, Washington, D.C., lobbyist Vin Roberti, opened many doors for his 30-year-old son over the course of the campaign, helping him raise nearly $1 million from large-dollar, out-of-state donors.

Roberti was endorsed by a parade of out-of-state political celebrities, including New York Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney, former Rhode Island Congressman Patrick Kennedy, Clinton administration advisor James Carville, Martin Luther King III and culminating with support from former President Clinton himself on Monday.

Esty’s final vote total was 12,678 to Donovan’s 9,212 and Roberti’s 6,583.

Donovan won his hometown of Meriden by more than 1,000 votes, but lost Waterbury and Danbury and only won New Britain by a few hundred votes. Esty dominated in small towns and suburbs, while Roberti trailed throughout the district.

Reporters Jordan Fenster, Luther Turmelle and Jennifer Swift contributed to this report.

Register Citizen Staff
Elizabeth Esty upset Connecticut Speaker of the House Chris Donovan to win the Democratic primary for Connecticut’s 5th District Congress seat Tuesday night.
She led 45 to 32 percent, with all 142 precincts reporting. A last-minute endorsement from former President Bill Clinton didn’t do much for Dan Roberti, who finished third at 23 percent.
It was a stunning defeat for Donovan, once considered a shoo-in for the Democratic nomination and a favorite in the general election. That was before his former campaign manager and finance director were arrested with six others in an alleged scheme to trade campaign cash for killing legislation in the Connecticut House. Donovan resisted calls to drop out of the race, maintaining his innocence.
Esty will face Republican Andrew Roraback, who also defeated a candidate, Lisa Wilson-Foley, whose campaign is facing a federal grand jury investigation.
Like Roraback, Esty wasted no time in reaching out to unaffiliated voters, who outnumber both Republicans and Democrats in the 5th District.
“People are looking for common sense approaches that are not based on ideology,” she said. “They don’t care what the letter is after the name on the ballot.”
While Esty put out negative TV ads and mailings attacking Donovan, she was not as strident in her criticism as Roberti, which some saw as a clear effort not to alienate Donovan’s strong labor union base. Unions and progressive organizations including MoveOn.Org remained loyal to Donovan despite the campaign finance scandal and arrests.
“You have to respect them for sticking with him. He has a 20-year track record with them,” she said. “But I’ve reached out to (state AFL-CIO head) John Olsen and others. I’m confident they will work hard with us because they want to keep the seat Democratic.”
Donovan conceded Tuesday night without mentioning Esty.
“While I won’t be the Democratic nominee in November, I will continue fighting for the progressive causes we’ve fought for,” he told supporters in Meriden. “Now more than ever we need to pass campaign finance reform … We need to keep fighting for our president and the things that matter.”
Donovan refused to speak to reporters following his speech. His campaign staff downplayed speculation that he could press forward with a third-party candidacy on the Working Families Party line in the general election. The Working Families Party has endorsed him, and Donovan and the party have a few weeks to decide whether to switch that endorsement to Esty or another candidate or no one.
In contrast to Donovan, Roberti offered strong and unqualified support for Esty.
“I’m going to out there I’m going to do everything I can to elect Elizabeth Esty to the United States Congress for the 5th district,” he said, “because as Democrats, we need to persevere, we need to take the House back, we need to protect this seat we had a spirited battle, a spirited debate over the last year and a half, but now it’s time to come together and so all of you who put so much energy into my candidacy, I am asking you from the bottom of my heart, it’s time to persevere and go out there and put the same amount of effort into her campaign…”
Roberti told a room full of supporters in Waterbury “the message of this campaign is to persevere” as his mother had for six years while fighting melanoma. His mother died Saturday at age 60, leading Roberti to curtail campaign appearances in the final days before the primary.
Roberti arrived with a group of volunteers, making his way from the street, hugging or shaking hands with every volunteer outside his campaign headquarters, or waiting inside the building.
Roberti thanked his family, supporters, his mother and father and his girlfriend.
“I lost my mom over the weekend, but she preserved for six years in the face of extreme adversity. When they gave her two months to live she kept going, and that’s the lesson of this campaign, is to persevere,” he said.
Roberti referenced news articles suggesting that he lied about his resume and questioning why he was keeping his personal finances secret until the night before the election.
“They attacked my character, but we know we know … the truth, and as long as you know in your heart what the truth is you’re going to get through all of that,” he said.
Esty’s victory is also a victory for Emily’s List, which supports female pro-choice Democrats running for Congress. It took on a high-profile and unusual battle with another powerhouse of national Democratic politics, MoveOn.Org, that is typically an ally. It got nasty as Emily’s List’s Super PAC spent hundreds of thousands of dollars in the 5th District attacking Donovan over the federal grand jury investigation and his record as speaker of the house.
Roberti also had a Super PAC attacking opponents on his behalf. “New Directions for America,” which maneuvered to keep its donors secret until after the election, spent nearly half a million on TV ads attacking Esty and Donovan.
Roberti’s father, Washington, D.C., lobbyist Vin Roberti, opened many doors for his 30-year-old son over the course of the campaign, helping him raise nearly $1 million from large-dollar, out-of-state donors.
Roberti was endorsed by a parade of out-of-state political celebrities, including New York Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney, former Rhode Island Congressman Patrick Kennedy, Clinton administration advisor James Carville, Martin Luther King III and culminating with support from former President Clinton himself on Monday.
Esty’s final vote total was 12,678 to Donovan’s 9,212 and Roberti’s 6,583.
Donovan won his hometown of Meriden by more than 1,000 votes, but lost Waterbury and Danbury and only won New Britain by a few hundred votes. Esty dominated in small towns and suburbs, while Roberti trailed throughout the district.
Reporters Jordan Fenster, Luther Turmelle and Jennifer Swift contributed to this report.

Andrew Roraback victorious in Republican 5th District Congress race

Register Citizen Staff

Strong support in the rural towns of his Northwest Connecticut state Senate district carried Andrew Roraback to victory in the Republican primary for Connecticut’s 5th District Congress seat Tuesday night.

PHOTO GALLERY: 5th District Primary Day

With all 142 precincts reporting, Roraback led his next closest challenger, Mark Greenberg, 32 to 27 percent, with Lisa Wilson-Foley and Justin Bernier trailing at 21 and 19 percent, respectively.

He told a crowd of cheering supporters at the Backstage restaurant in Torrington that his campaign will appeal to unaffiliated voters in November who are unhappy with President Barack Obama’s leadership.

Roraback will face Democrat Elizabeth Esty, who upset Connecticut Speaker of the House Chris Donovan and public relations executive Dan Roberti.

Andrew Roraback, 5th District Primary night

“Voters are going to have the choice between a candidate who supports the president’s policies, and that’s Elizabeth Esty, or they’re going to have someone who disagrees with the president, and that would be Andrew Roraback,” he said.

He said it “says a lot” about voters rejected the two candidates in the race who were facing ethical questions. Two separate federal grand jury investigations have been launched into the campaigns of Donovan and Wilson-Foley.

Roraback, a fiscal conservative who is liberal on social issues such as abortion and gay marriage, said, “There are three issues in this country: The Economy, the economy, the economy. Until this country gets our financials right, all other issues are secondary.”

“We have to stop the spending. It’s not Democrats versus Republicans, it’s strictly mathematics,” he said. “I’ve been the minority for 18 years in Hartford and I’ve been able to get results.”

The other three Republicans in the race had conceded before 10 p.m. Tuesday.

“We fought a good fight but it is not my fight to win this time,” said Wilson-Foley, who told supporters in Simsbury that she won’t run for elected office again after losing a bid for lieutenant governor two years ago and Congress on Tuesday. “I say that with sadness in my heart, but I’ll get my life back, my husband will get his wife back, and my kids will get their mom back.”

Wilson-Foley pledged to support the Republican nominee in November. “Maybe this district won’t get the best congresswoman that ever lived, but sometimes life’s not fair,” she said.

Speaking to supporters in his hometown of Plainville, Justin Bernier said he was going to call Roraback to concede.

“We may not have won the race,” Bernier said, but he told supporters that his campaign showcased conservative values and grassroots effort.

Bernier cited his fundraising disadvantage, and said he had only one paid staffer at the end.

“I don’t look back with any regrets whatsoever. We ran a very good campaign,” Greenberg told supporters in Southbury.

He did not mention Roraback in his concession speech, but like Wilson-Foley, said it’s unlikely that he will run again.

Both Bernier and Greenberg were running in the 5th District Republican primary for the second time in a row. They finished second and third, respectively, in 2010.

Roraback was the last candidate to enter the 5th District race, but was considered a frontrunner due to his popularity in his Northwest Corner Senate district, which comprises many of the rural towns in the western part of the district. He received the endorsement of the Republican State Convention in May, narrowly beating out Wilson-Foley.

Wilson-Foley was embroiled throughout the campaign in a scandal involving her campaign’s relationship with former Gov. John Rowland. After saying that he was working as an “unpaid volunteer consultant” to the campaign, Wilson-Foley admitted that Rowland was being paid $5,000 a month to “consult” for one of her husband’s businesses at the same time. That prompted two Federal Elections Commission complaints and a federal grand jury investigation that is still ongoing. The grand jury has subpoenaed Wilson-Foley’s husband and Greenberg, who alleges that Rowland proposed a similar scheme to him when he ran for Congress two years ago.

Throughout the campaign, Roraback was attacked by Bernier and Greenberg for supporting abortion rights and gay marriage, while all three candidates criticized him for working too closely with Democrats in the Connecticut General Assembly.

Those are the same reasons that Democratic leaders feared most feared Roraback in the general election. A Democratic-funded Super PAC went so far as to pose as a conservative organization to run more than $200,000 in TV ads attacking Roraback for being too liberal, in an attempt to turn conservative primary voters against him and elevate one of the other candidates as the nominee.

In 11 small Northwest Corner towns (Cornwall, Goshen, Kent, Litchfield, Morris, North Canaan, Roxbury, Salisbury, Sharon, Warren and Washington) at the heart of Roraback’s state Senate district, the vote was 2,253 Roraback, 428 Greenberg, 322 Bernier, 143 Wilson-Foley

Roraback won 24 of the district’s 41 towns overall. Greenberg won eight, posting strong margins of victory in some communities farthest from Roraback’s base in Newtown, Southbury, Meriden and Cheshire.

The support of Mayor Mark Boughton helped Wilson-Foley win Danbury, 693 votes to Greenberg’s 443. As expected, she also won her hometown of Simsbury, 691 to Roraback’s 401, and nearby Avon, 504 to Greenberg’s 329, but her edge there was nothing like Roraback’s support in the Northwest Corner.

Bernier won his hometown of Plainville by a 2-to-1 margin over Wilson-Foley, and his native Farmington and nearby Burlington. But the combined edge over his nearest competitors in the four towns he won was only 235 votes.

Reporters Michelle Merlin, Ricky Campbell, Daniela Forte and Phyllis Swebilius contributed to this report.

LIVE BLOG: Esty, Roraback win 5th District Congress primaries

Join the staff of The Register Citizen, Litchfield County Times and New Haven Register for a live blog of Connecticut’s 5th District Congress primary day, including release and analysis of results as they come in tonight.

After scandals, self-funding and Super PACs, 5th District goes to polls

By Matt DeRienzo, Staff Reporter

What was likely the most expensive congressional primary in the history of Connecticut draws to a close Tuesday as Republican and Democratic primary voters in the 5th District choose two of seven candidates to square off in November.

The competition for the rare open seat has been marred by two separate federal grand jury investigations into the campaigns of Democrat Chris Donovan and Lisa Wilson-Foley.

It has feature two secretive out-of-state “Super PACs” spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to influence the outcome.

A Super PAC supporting Democrat Dan Roberti by airing TV ads attacking his two opponents has maneuvered to hide the source of its funding until Aug. 20, nearly a week after the election.

A second Super PAC is funded by Democrats but is running ads pretending to be from a conservative Republican group. They attack Andrew Roraback for being too liberal, hoping they can manipulate the Republican primary to defeat the candidate Democrats most fear in a general election matchup.

A third Super PAC associated with the national women’s group Emily’s List has spent significant money supporting Elizabeth Esty, while another national group, MoveOn.Org, has been raising money for Donovan.

Four of the candidates – Republicans Wilson-Foley and Mark Greenberg and Democrats Roberti and Elizabeth Esty – are millionaires who have loaned their campaigns more than $3.5 million combined.

Numerous sources have reported internal polling showing that both primaries are a dead heat.

Andrew Roraback (Register Citizen Photo/Rick Thomason)

In the Republican primary, Roraback, a state senator from Goshen who won the endorsement of the Republican State Convention in May, has been the target of attack ads and mailings from the three other candidates on the ballot in addition to the Democrats’ Super PAC.

They’ve attacked him for being moderate on social issues and for supporting some programs proposed by Democrats in the legislature, two of the biggest reasons Democrats fear him as a general election opponent.

Roraback has billed himself as a fiscal conservative who led opposition to Gov. Dannel Malloy’s tax increase last year and has attempted to block excessive borrowing for projects such as the New Britain-to-Hartford Busway.

Opponents say he’s too liberal and out of step with the Republican base.
Wilson-Foley, whose family owns numerous businesses including a chain of two dozen nursing homes in Connecticut, is running for Congress after an unsuccessful Republican primary bid for lieutenant governor two years ago.

Lisa Wilson-Foley (Register Citizen Photo/Rick Thomason)

Her campaign has been clouded by its relationship with former Gov. John Rowland. He was “volunteering” for her campaign while being paid $5,000 a month to “consult” for a business owned by her husband. Critics saw this as a scheme to hide Rowland’s involvement from the government and listeners of his afternoon talk radio show on WTIC. Two Federal Elections Commission complaints were filed, and a federal grand jury investigation launched that is ongoing and has subpoenaed both Wilson-Foley’s husband and 5th District foe Mark Greenberg. Greenberg alleges that Rowland pitched a similar arrangement to him two years ago, and that he rejected Rowland’s suggestion that he “volunteer” for his campaign and be paid on the side through Greenberg’s animal shelter..
Wilson-Foley has attacked Roraback for being too liberal, and Roraback has attacked her for the same.

Wilson-Foley donated to Democratic Congressman Chris Murphy, whom they are vying to succeed, before she decided to register as a Republican and run for lieutenant governor two years ago.

Greenberg and the fourth candidate in the race, Justin Bernier, have each tried to distinguish themselves as the “one true conservative” in the race.

Justin Bernier (Register Citizen Photo/Rick Thomason)

Both ran unsuccessfully in the Republican primary for the 5th District two years ago.
Greenberg is a successful real estate developer who has enjoyed support from Tea Party leaders and the Family Institute of Connecticut, an organization focused on opposing abortion and gay marriage.

Bernier is a Navy veteran of the Afghanistan conflict, a former congressional staffer to then-Congressman Rob Simmons and former state military liaison under Gov. M. Jodi Rell.
His campaign has suffered internal turmoil this year, with his campaign manager quitting after Bernier placed a distant third at the Republican State Convention. A second campaign manager and campaign spokesman quit just two weeks before the primary and took the rare step of issuing their own press release about it, citing “creative differences” with the candidate.

Mark Greenberg (Register Citizen Photo/Rick Thomason)

Bernier took center stage at two final Republican debates before the primary, ratcheting up attacks on the other three candidates and getting under the skin of Roraback, who has accused him of blatant lies in fundraising letters and TV ads.

On the Democratic side, Donovan, speaker of the Connecticut House, was once considered a strong favorite to win not only the primary, but the general election. He easily won the endorsement of the Democratic State Convention in May.

That momentum collapsed when the FBI arrested his former campaign finance director this spring, followed by the arrest of his former campaign manager, a longtime supporter and five others last month in a scheme aimed at trading campaign cash for Donovan killing a specific piece of legislation regulating “roll your own” tobacco shops.

Donovan has not been charged with any crime, and denies any knowledge or involvement in the scheme, but a federal investigation is ongoing and he was unable to obtain a letter or statement from prosecutors clearing his name ahead of the primary.

Chris Donovan speaks at a 5th District congressional debate in Torrington. (Register Citizen photo/Rick Thomason)

Esty, an attorney, former one-term state representative and wife of Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection Commissioner Dan Esty, has the backing of Emily’s List, a prominent national organization that supports pro-choice female Democratic candidates.

Donovan, a career labor union organizer before ascending to the speaker’s office, has strong and loyal support from the state’s labor unions and progressives.

That has set up an unusual battle in the 5th District between Emily’s List and another national powerhouse of liberal politics, MoveOn.Org.

MoveOn.Org has stuck by Donovan, and along with his campaign, has blasted Esty for supporting compromise budgets while she was in the legislature that did not go as far as Donovan in taxing millionaires and refusing to cut state programs.

Elizabeth Esty speaks at a 5th District congressional debate in Torrington. (Register Citizen photo/Rick Thomason)

Esty has billed herself as an outsider and working mom and Donovan as a “career politician” and “part of the problem” that we need to fix in Washington.

Donovan says he’s the only candidate with a long record of supporting measures that help working families, including increasing Connecticut’s minimum wage and expanding access to health insurance coverage.

The third candidate in the race, the 30-year-old Roberti, has been a mystery. He raised nearly $1 million from big-dollar out-of-state donors thanks to the connections of his father, Washington, D.C., lobbyist Vin Roberti.

He’s been endorsed by various national politician friends of his father, including Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney of New York and former Rhode Island Congressman Patrick Kennedy.

Martin Luther King III recently campaigned on his behalf in Waterbury, famed Clinton administration strategist James Carville recorded a video for him, and last-miinute campaign finance reports show donations from Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry and famous boxer Oscar de la Hoya.

Dan Roberti speaks at a 5th District congressional debate in Torrington. (Register Citizen photo/Rick Thomason)

But Roberti has no history of work or public service in Connecticut, and a recent Hartford Courant report exposed that he has been lying about his resume. For example, he has said repeatedly on the campaign trail and in TV ads that he managed a homeless shelter in Spokane, Washington. The shelter says he was just an intern there, never a manager.

Email Matt DeRienzo at mderienzo@journalregister.com. Follow our 5th District coverage on Twitter @5thDistrictCT or Facebook @CT5thDistrict.

Bernier, Roraback lead 5th District field weak on foreign policy experience

By Matt DeRienzo, Staff Reporter

“It’s the economy, stupid.”

That’s the big, obvious reason that there has been virtually no discussion of foreign policy questions in the contentious race for Connecticut’s 5th District Congress seat this year.

Even though it’s a federal position, and important foreign policy questions will be part of the winner’s job, voters only want to talk about jobs, taxes, the economy and health care.

Most of the candidates in the 5th District race have another reason for not talking about foreign policy.

Running a physical therapy business, developing shopping plazas and writing press releases to promote PBS documentaries don’t do much to prepare you for a discussion about troop withdrawals in Afghanistan and navigating diplomacy toward Iran and Israel.

That doesn’t stop candidates for Congress from having strong opinions, though.

Mark Greenberg called Islam "a cult" and said he has no plan for health care reform when he appeared on WNPR's "Where We Live" program as part of a series of hour-long interviews with the candidates for 5th DIstrict Congress this year. Photo by Chion Wolf/WNPR

Republican Mark Greenberg was widely criticized after he called Islam “a cult” in an appearance on WNPR’s “Where We Live.” He’s also been the most strident in his support of Israel, saying the country should have America’s support if it wants to unilaterally and pre-emptively launch a military strike on Iran.

WNPR News Director John Dankosky was one of the few journalists in this year’s primary season to dedicate time to asking the 5th District candidates about foreign policy, and in addition to the Greenberg Islam comments, the show drew out Dan Roberti‘s more hawkish stance toward Iran than fellow Democrats.

Only two of the seven candidates in the 5th District, Justin Bernier and Andrew Roraback, have any foreign policy experience to speak of.

Bernier leads the way, having worked at a consulting firm that advised defense contractors, then as a congressional staffer in Washington, D.C., who was heavily involved in analyzing the work of a federal Base Realignment and Closure commission in a successful effort to save Connecticut’s Groton submarine base.

Andrew Roraback left and Justin Bernier, right, sparred much of the evening at a 5th District Congress debate in Newtown Thursday night. Mara Lavitt/New Haven Register

Bernier served in Afghanistan as an intelligence officer with the U.S. Navy, and was former Gov. M. Jodi Rell’s military liaison before stepping down to run for Congress in 2010.

Less known is Roraback’s experience in the world outside of his work in the Connecticut legislature.

He was named in 2006 as an Aspen Institute fellow, and with other young elected officials from across the country, traveled to China, India, Israel, Egypt and Jordan, meeting with government leaders and others.

Roraback says he has also traveled extensively in Europe, Asia and Central America, and he speaks German, Spanish and French “at varying degrees of proficiency.”

When asked at a debate what sources of information he uses to formulate views on foreign policy, Chris Donovan said, in part, that he “reads the New York Times.”

But Donovan has just as much foreign policy experience as current 5th District Congressman Chris Murphy when he was elected, and Connecticut has a long history of elevating state legislators to federal positions.

The third Democrat in the race, Elizabeth Esty, also a former state legislator, is honest about it.

Elizabeth Esty speaks at a 5th District congressional debate in Torrington. (Register Citizen photo/Rick Thomason)

“I don’t claim to have extensive foreign policy experience. I have a strong background in healthcare and energy policy, and I think it’s fair to say that in the 21’st century many of these issues are now global rather than exclusively domestic,” she said. “Energy in particular is key to our national security and plays a critical role in our nation’s foreign policy calculations. I try to stay informed on what’s going on in the world including following the news and reading the paper on a daily basis.”

Republican Lisa Wilson-Foley says that part of the role of a congresswoman is to respect the advice of military leaders and the need for the president to make tactical decisions.

“It’s time for the troops to come home,” she said of the conflict in Afghanistan, “however, I do not support our leaders setting public deadlines for political purposes. Those are decisions and discussions that should remain private between the Commander in Chief and our military leaders.

Bernier, on the other hand, sees the need for a Congress with more real-world foreign policy experience that empowers representatives to question military leaders. Congress can’t blindly trust the wisdom of military budget proposals, he said, nor rush to judgment again like when Congress authorized military action against Iraq over the dubious claim that it had weapons of mass destruction.

“There are so many members of Congress who just accept what the Department of Defense tells them because they don’t want to question it or it’s too complicated … when it’s their job to do oversight,” he said in an interview earlier this year.

Email Matt DeRienzo at mderienzo@journalregister.com. Follow our 5th District coverage on Twitter @5thDistrictCT and Facebook @CT5thDistrict.

REGISTER CITIZEN EDITORIAL: 5th District candidates duck ethics questions

The following editorial appeared in the Aug. 12, 2012, issue of The Register Citizen:

Serious ethical questions hang over the race for Connecticut’s 5th District Congress seat as voters head to the polls on Tuesday.

We’ve had months of bizarre twists and turns, seen the launch of two federal investigations and witnessed mudslinging from all seven candidates.

What stands out, through it all, is a failure on the part of three of those candidates to answer basic questions about serious ethics concerns.

There are more questions than ever surrounding an influence peddling scandal involving the campaign of Democratic Speaker of the House Chris Donovan.

Chris Donovan speaks at a 5th District congressional debate in Torrington. (Register Citizen photo/Rick Thomason)

The FBI’s recent arrest of eight people, including Donovan’s former campaign manager, former finance director and a longtime supporter, escalated the concerns about Donovan’s integrity and competence.

When it was just about illegally hiding the identity of people funding his campaign through a “conduit donor” scheme, it was plausible to think that it was the work of a rogue employee and that it could have happened without Donovan’s knowledge or involvement.

Indictments in the arrest of former Donovan campaign manager and longtime confidante Josh Nassi, however, describe a much more detailed and nefarious plot to kill specific legislation in exchange for campaign cash.

And there is evidence in that indictment that the conspiracy might have crossed over to at least one high-level member of Donovan’s legislative staff, who was communicating with Nassi about the status of the bill in question.

A mysterious handwritten note in possession of campaign staff with a list of seven pieces of pending legislation was cited in Donovan’s own internal investigation of the scandal, suggesting that there could have been a wider campaign-cash-for-legislative-influence practice in the works.

We want to give Donovan the benefit of the doubt. But he won’t talk about the details of any of this, won’t release that list of legislation, won’t answer questions.

Lisa Wilson-Foley (Register Citizen Photo/Rick Thomason)

Republican Lisa Wilson-Foley and Democrat Dan Roberti are similarly evasive when it comes to serious questions about their integrity.

Wilson-Foley was the only one of seven candidates running in the 5th District to back out of an hour-long interview on WNPR’s “Where We Live” because she did not want to answer questions about her relationship with John Rowland.

Rowland, who resigned in disgrace and went to prison for defrauding taxpayers as Connecticut governor, was “volunteering” for Wilson-Foley’s campaign while being paid $5,000 a month to “consult” for a business owned by Wilson-Foley’s husband.

At the same time, he trashed Wilson-Foley’s 5th District opponents on his afternoon WTIC radio talk show, and even grilled them on the air, without disclosing to them or to listeners that he was helping Wlison-Foley and being paid by her husband.

This sparked an ongoing federal grand jury investigation that has subpoenaed her husband and 5th District rival Mark Greenberg, who says that Rowland proposed a similar “volunteer for the campaign in exchange for being paid through a different business” scheme to him two years ago.

With help from the political connections of his powerful Washington, D.C., lobbyist father, Vin Roberti, Dan Roberti has skillfully evaded questions about who exactly is behind his campaign for Congress.

Dan Roberti speaks at a 5th District congressional debate in Torrington. (Register Citizen photo/Rick Thomason)

He obtained an extension for filing a personal finance disclosure form that will allow him to file as late as 11:59 p.m. Monday, Aug. 13, the night before the election. Because such forms are filed hard copy with an office in Washington, D.C., and not available online, it’s unlikely that any voter will hear about the contents of that disclosure before Tuesday’s vote.

And it’s significant. Last year, Roberti was poor enough personally to still owe student loans, something he’s cited on the campaign trail to signal that he understands the struggles of middle class families.

Yet out of the blue, he has poured nearly $1 million of his own money into the campaign over the past month. And his new personal finance disclosure form is expected to show details of the possible transfer of a 50 percent stake he owns in his father’s lobbying business.

Even more troubling, the Hartford Courant last week caught Roberti lying about his resume.

He has repeatedly said on the campaign trail that he “managed a homeless shelter” in Spokane, Wash., and that he is on leave as a public relations executive with a New York firm.

The Courant recently quoted the people who run that homeless shelter as saying that Roberti was just an intern and never manager. The public relations firm he worked for says he’s not on leave, and that he has had “no connection whatsoever” with the firm since January.

If there are obvious, specific explanations for the ethical lapses clouding these three campaigns, why haven’t the candidates stepped up and offered them?

If 5th District follows national trend, it could be Esty vs. Greenberg

As the rest of the nation goes, so goes Connecticut?

If the state’s 5th District Congress race follows national trends in U.S. House and Senate primaries so far this year, we could end up with a general election matchup of Elizabeth Esty and Tea Party favorite Mark Greenberg.

Elizabeth Esty of Cheshire chats with delegate Martin Cobern of Cheshire at the District 5 convention at Rotella Interdistrict Magnet School in Waterbury. (New Haven Register Photo/Peter Casolino)

In race after race across the country, far-right “Tea Party”-backed candidates have been upsetting the Republican establishment, while Democrats have been rejecting far-left progressives in favor of candidates who are more likely to win in November.

Two national organizations supporting those progressive candidates, MoveOn.Org and the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, are backing Connecticut Speaker of the House Chris Donovan in the 5th District Democratic primary Tuesday.

They’ve stuck by him in the wake of a federal grand jury investigation into his campaign and the FBI’s arrest of eight people, including his former campaign manager, finance director and a longtime supporter.

MoveOn.Org, for one, has put significant effort and resources into criticizing Esty and another major national organization, Emily’s List, which is supporting her campaign.

But PCCC’s and MoveOn.Org’s has had little success in Democratic primaries this year.

In Illinois’ 10th Congressional District, they supported Ilya Sheman over Brad Schneider. Similar to their attacks against Esty in Connecticut, they depicted Schneider as a Democrat likely to sympathize or compromise with Republicans. Sheman lost.

Ditto in New Mexico’s 1st District, where they endorsed failed progressive primary challenger Eric Griego, again depicting opponents as too conservative.

On the Republican side, Republican State Convention-endorsed candidate Andrew Roraback and fellow moderate Lisa Wilson-Foley are up against two election cycles of far-right Tea Party victories in Republican congressional primaries.

It started in 2010, and has shown no sign of letting up in this election cycle.

In Missouri on Tuesday, social conservative Todd Akin beat two more moderate candidates in the Republican primary for U.S. Senate. In Michigan, however, moderate Republican Congressman Fred Upton survived a challenge from a Tea Party candidate.

A week earlier, Tea Party favorite Ted Cruz beat the establishment-backed candidate in the Republican primary for the Texas U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Kay Bailey Hutchinson.

In May, conservative Republican primary challenger Richard Mourdock knocked off longtime Indiana Sen. Richard Lugar.

In Nebraska, a Sarah Palin-backed candidate, Deb Fischer, won the Republican primary for U.S. Senate after the establishment-backed candidate was hammered in a series of ads funded by national conservative groups.

Mother of 5th District candidate Dan Roberti dies at age 60

The mother of 5th District Congress candidate Dan Roberti died on Saturday at age 60.

“It is with deep sadness that I and my brother, Vincent, announce the death of our mother, Kathleen Lenihan, after a courageous, six-year battle with melanoma,” Roberti said in a statement released by his campaign Saturday evening. “My mother was an inspiration to everyone in our family. We drew on her strength, relished her wit, and sought to embody her compassion. She was a schoolteacher who challenged her students to make their world a better place. She set that same goal for my brother and me, always encouraging us to reach out to those less fortunate than ourselves. Her values are her legacy and will be our enduring guide.”

Roberti had announced earlier in the day that he was “curtailing” campaign activities ahead of Tuesday’s Democratic primary to be at his mother’s bedside.

Mary Moran notified the media of the decision via an e-mail from Campaign Manager Erik Williams that was released shortly before 5 p.m. Saturday. The seven-sentence statement said his mother, Kathleen Lenihan, is in the final days of a six-year battle with cancer and that the candidate had been at her bedside since Thursday.

“However, his campaign for the Democratic Party nomination continues,” Williams said in the  statement. “Dan’s volunteers and staff are more dedicated than ever and committed to his success. He acknowledges that his family, friends and supporters have been a source of strength.”

The announcement of her death came at just after 6:30 p.m. Saturday.

Roberti, a 30-year-old resident of Kent, is in a three-way battle with former state representative Elizabeth Esty and Connecticut House Speaker Chris Donovan in the Democratic primary for the Fifth District Congressional seat currently held by Democrat Chris Murphy of Cheshire.

Roberti’s mother and father divorced when the candidate was toddler. His father, Vincent Roberti Sr., is the chairman of a powerful Washington, D.C. lobbying firm, Roberti Associates.

Lenihan, who most recently resided in Kent, passed away in hospice care in the Candlewood Valley Health & Rehabilitation Center in New Milford. She was a native of Ridgewood, New Jersey, and formerly worked as a Bridgeport public school teacher.

She is also survived by her son Vincent Roberti Jr., and his wife Bronwyn, and their son Vincent Roberti III, all of Kent; as well as several brothers and sisters.

Email Luther Turmelle at lturmelle@nhregister.com. Follow our 5th District coverage on Twitter @5thDistrictCT or Facebook @CT5thDistrict.

SUSAN CAMPBELL: Cheap little shots on the 5th District campaign trail

If Andrew Roraback had his way, Justin Bernier would not be enjoying the company of his beautiful daughters.

At least, I think that is the message of a political ad now running in the Fighting Fifth District (you can watch it here: http://vimeo.com/47174839). In the ad, Bernier reports that Roraback would not support a ban on gender-selective abortion. According to the ad, Roraback – like Bernier, a Republican candidate for U.S. representative – made the statement in an earlier debate during the long campaign for a seat being vacated by Rep. Chris Murphy, who is running for U.S. Senate.

Susan Campbell. Photo by Chion Wolf/WNPR

All that to say: Bernier is against abortions performed specifically because the parents want a boy, not a girl.

Well, who isn’t? Except even the august body to which Bernier aspires did not support such a ban when they voted on the Prenatal Nondiscrimination Act in May – not because any one supports sex-selective abortions, but because enough representatives, including a handful of Republicans, saw the measure as unenforceable, unnecessary, and/or as yet another threat to reproductive rights. There’s a lot of that going around lately, but even in a climate where states are making it increasingly difficult to get an abortion, where Planned Parenthood funding is threatened and then threatened again, no one much expected the ban to pass – nor should it, since it is a solution in search of a problem. I can’t find numbers I trust on the incidence of gender-selective abortions in this country — and I bet you can’t, either — but the Census Bureau says the sex ratio for boys vs. girls at birth is roughly 105 to 100, and it’s been that way for decades. Either parents have been surreptitiously practicing gender selection, or this is a big waste of time.

That Bernier would take this political tack is pretty much par for the course in the run-up to Connecticut’s primary, which is – thank God — Tuesday.

Another Fifth ad (available here: http://bit.ly/NmBtQC) shows an actor portraying the embattled state House Speaker Christopher Donovan, a Democrat, emerging from a tanning bed, clad only in a towel and goggles. The supposition of this particular ad, from fellow Democrat Dan Roberti, is that Donovan took money from various interests, and then dictated, as Speaker, whether bills affecting those interests would be heard. The claim’s tenuous, at best, though I giggle every time I see the actor-Donovan climbing out of the microwave.

Is there a better response than a giggle?

This may be the lamest campaign in state history – and not because too many of the candidates are spending too much time in attack mode, either. No, this is a lame campaign because while it is short on substance, it still doesn’t rise to the level of “rowdy.” Rowdy, I can enjoy. This is more like a slap-fight between opponents whose hearts aren’t in it. And slap-fighting eats into time better spent discussing what voters face in the coming months.

For some real nasty politics, go to YouTube and watch “Attack Ads, Circa 1800 (available here: http://bit.ly/NfY2s3). You can’t go much lower than “If Thomas Jefferson wins, murder, robbery, rape, adultery and incest will be openly taught and practiced.” The Fighting Fifth does not rise to that level of vitriol, but it also doesn’t promise to deliver any messages that will stay with us – say, Lyndon Johnson’s Daisy ad, or the Willie Horton ad against then-Democratic presidential candidate Michael Dukakis. That last one was a whopper and moved its architects, Lee Atwater, to later apologize to Dukakis — but it worked.

I do not wish for a dirty campaign, but if you’re going to throw a punch, throw one. What we have here are a series of cheap little shots that are no more memorable than last Tuesday’s lunch.

You had the chicken. It was so-so.

Susan Campbell is an award-winning author of “Dating Jesus” and former columnist at the Hartford Courant. Her new biography, “Tempest-Tossed: The Spirit of Isabella Beecher Hooker,” is coming soon. Follow her blog at http://datingjesus.wordpress.com/.

Greenberg campaign blasts last-minute Wilson-Foley attack ad

By Matt DeRienzo, Staff Reporter

Mark Greenberg‘s 5th District Congress campaign is criticizing a last-minute TV ad paid for by Republican primary rival Lisa Wilson-Foley.

Lisa Wilson-Foley (New Haven Register Photo/Peter Casolino)

The ad criticizes Greenberg for having had liens against one of his real estate developments, “leaving small businesses in the lurch,” and for having a “$600,000 lien against his house.”

“Lisa Wilson-Foley’s new ad is a blatant lie and an act of desperation from a tainted campaign that is under multiple federal investigations,” said Greenberg spokesman Chris Cooper. “This last-second, completely misleading ad does not even provide a citation for her claims, which may be yet another violation of federal election law committed by her campaign.”

Numerous sources have described internal campaign polling showing a tight three-way race in Tuesday’s Republican primary among Andrew Roraback, Greenberg and Wilson-Foley, with Justin Bernier trailing.

Some have predicted a surprise showing by Greenberg, who has billed himself as the “one true conservative” alternative to the more moderate Roraback and Wilson-Foley.

That’s in part because Greenberg has not been the subject of negative TV attacks until this weekend’s Wilson-Foley ad.

Up until that point, he was the only “untouched” candidate as the airwaves, mailboxes and news reports have been filled with Bernier and Wilson-Foley attacks on Roraback, Roraback attacks on Wilson-Foley, Roraback accusing Bernier of lying, and Greenberg attacks on Roraback and Wilson-Foley.

Wilson-Foley campaign operative Chris Healy has tried for months to get reporters to write about the liens, but Connecticut news outlets, including The Register Citizen, have declined after learning the details.

According to the Greenberg campaign, a bank behind a construction loan for one of his developments backed out in the middle of the project, leading to mechanic’s liens (which are pretty easy to file and pretty common in such disputes). Rather than wait for a judge to issue an order against the bank, Greenberg paid contractors on the project out of his own pocket.

As for the “$600,000 lien on his house,” it’s the subject of ongoing litigation between Greenberg and a real estate company over property he backed out of buying in Canada. A quirk in Canadian law allows sellers to not only keep the deposit Greenberg paid, but also the difference between the original selling price and what the property eventually sold for after the buyer backed out. Greenberg says this part of the law was not explained to him by his real estate agents in Canada, and that’s partly what the lawsuit is about.

“Over the past six months, Lisa Foley has approached every Connecticut television station and newspaper trying unsuccessfully to get them to write about the claims in her ad. Having had her lies rejected by the media, Lisa is now paying to have them aired on television and radio,” Cooper said. “The truth is that there are no outstanding tax liens on any of Mark Greenberg’s properties — and Lisa W. Foley knows that, which makes her deliberate smear tactic all the worse.”

Email Matt DeRienzo at mderienzo@journalregister.com. Follow our 5th District coverage on Twitter @5thDistrictCT or on Facebook @CT5thDistrictCT.

Working Families Party: Third-party bid is in Chris Donovan’s hands

By Jordan Fenster, Staff Reporter

If Chris Donovan should lose Tuesday’s Democratic primary, could he remain on the ballot as a third-party candidate endorsed by the Working Families Party?

The Connecticut Working Families Party has already endorsed Donovan, but has no mechanism to remove him from the general election ballot should Donovan lose the Aug. 14 Democratic primary for 5th District Congress but decide not to withdraw his name from the Working Families line.

Donovan’s campaign declined to address the possibility, saying it’s focused 100 percent on winning the Democratic primary on Tuesday, Aug. 14.

“There is no Wednesday,” said Donovan campaign spokesman Gabe Rosenberg.

“It would be up to his campaign if they would resign from the ballot line or not,” according to Taylor Leake, Connecticut Working Families Party spokesman. “We’re still hoping that he wins (the Democratic primary).”

According to some sources, Donovan has dropped sharply in the polls, a result of the arrests of two of his senior campaign staffers on charges they conceived a cash-for-legislative action scheme and then sought to conceal the source of $27,500 in campaign donations.

News site CTNewsJunkie.com said the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee conducted an internal poll showing Dan Roberti ahead of both Donovan and opponent Elizabeth Esty, though the DCCC would not confirm the results of the poll.

The Working Families Party has remained supportive of Donovan’s campaign despite the arrests, Connecticut director Lindsay Farrell telling the Connecticut Post’s Brian Lockhart after the arrest of the candidate’s campaign finance director that “Chris Donovan is a great guy, who has always stood up for working people and their families, and he’s always done it with honesty and integrity. His commitment to clean elections and good ethics legislation over the years makes it unimaginable that he could have known that this was happening.”

That commitment, according to Leake, has not waned.

“We are working as hard as we can to help him win,” he said. “He’s the only candidate with a record we can trust.”

Email Jordan Fenster at jfenster@nhregister.com. Follow our 5th District coverage on Twitter @5thDistrictCT or Facebook @CT5thDistrict.

George Jepsen defends Elizabeth Esty, calling attacks ‘cheap shots’

By Jordan Fenster, Staff Reporter

Connecticut Attorney General George Jepsen said Friday that recent attacks on Elizabeth Esty by 5th District Congress Democratic primary opponents Chris Donovan and Dan Roberti attempting to portray her as “not a real Democrat” are unfounded and “cheap shots.”

Elizabeth Esty speaks at a 5th District congressional debate in Torrington. (Register Citizen photo/Rick Thomason)

Jepsen said Esty embodies “core Democratic values.”

“I’m not endorsing anybody,” Jepsen said, but he and Esty have a long history, and he wanted to make his feelings regarding her progressive values known.

“I know her for more than 30 years,” Jepsen said of Esty, when he was in law school and she was an undergraduate student, both at Harvard University.

“She has very strong values that I think reflect the mainstream of the Democratic Party,” he said.

When asked if that meant her opponents were more radically liberal, Jepsen said no.

“I’m not saying Chris Donovan is an outlier at all,” he said.

Jepsen himself has a long history in Connecticut Democratic politics. He took office as attorney general in January 2011, but before that he was a state representative from Stamford, first elected in 1987, a state senator representing Stamford and Darien from 1990 to 2003 (during which period he served as Senate Majority Leader), was the 2002 Democratic nominee for lieutenant governor and Democratic State Party chairman from 2003 to 2005.

Jepsen and Donovan stood side-by-side in support of Ned Lamont in his successful from-the-left primary challenge of Sen. Joe Lieberman in 2006.

When asked about Esty’s support of what Donovan has labeled a “Republican-like budget” in 2009, Jepsen said “every budget vote is a compromise to some degree.”

“She represented one of the most conservative Republican districts to be held by a Democrat,” Jepsen said. “Budget votes need to reflect the reality of the district you’re representing. She needed to reflect in some measure the wishes of her constituents.”

In fact, Jepsen believes the differences between the 5th District Democratic hopefuls, at least as far as the depth of their commitments to Democratic values, is not as stark as primary watchers might think.

The contentiousness of the race, and the high level of funding “serves to magnify” what differences that are between the candidates, he said.

Email Jordan Fenster at jfenster@nhregister.com. Follow our 5th District coverage on Twitter @5thDistrictCT or Facebook @CT5thDistrict.

REGISTER CITIZEN EDITORIAL: Democrats use outright deception to manipulate 5th District GOP primary

Lies, low-blows, questionable ethics and outright violations of the law have distinguished the campaign for Connecticut’s 5th District Congress seat this year.

Andrew Roraback (Register Citizen Photo/Rick Thomason)

And just when you think it can’t get any worse, someone stoops to a new low.

The latest is a Democratic Party-backed “Super PAC” spending more than $200,000 on one of the most deceptive TV political ad campaigns Connecticut has seen.

They target Republican front-runner Andrew Roraback, not for opposing Democrats, but supporting them.

The ads, which criticize Roraback for supporting Democratic Party-sponsored tax increases during his time in the legislature, are aimed at manipulating the Aug. 14 Republican primary.

Roraback is the Republican nominee Democratic strategists have said they most fear in the general election.

By turning conservative voters against him in the Republican primary, Democrats hope to face an easier-to-beat, far-right social conservative such as Mark Greenberg or Justin Bernier, or Lisa Wilson-Foley, whose campaign has been damaged by a federal grand jury investigation.

The deception, of course, comes in the lack of disclosure that the ads were produced and paid for by Democrats. You can’t tell by the words “Paid for by Patriot Majority USA” in tiny print at the end of these spots. They look and sound, instead, like something sponsored by a conservative group.

This is the equivalent of the Republican Party funding TV ads praising Chris Donovan’s progressive voting record and support for working families, because they want him to win the Democratic primary. Or running ads attacking Elizabeth Esty for being too conservative for Democratic primary voters, because they fear facing her in November.

The hypocrisy in these tactics is astounding, as Democrats have led intense public criticism of the U.S. Supreme Court’s “Citizens United” decision, which makes this deception possible.

What’s dismaying is that rather than reprimand this out-of-state group as not welcome among the kind of campaigns Connecticut politicians of both parties aspire to, state Democratic Party Chairwoman Nancy DiNardo chose not to condemn the practice. Instead, she blasted Roraback for not supporting campaign finance reform passed by Democratic legislators a few years ago. Campaign finance reform that has been rendered completely meaningless by her party’s use of every underhanded and deceptive trick in the book this year.

Connecticut voters expect more, and other Democrats should be standing up to say that this kind of practice will not be tolerated in their party.

Citizens Agenda: What will 5th District candidates do about cost of electricity?

By Luther Turmelle, Staff Reporter

Tracey Burrill is going into her sixth year as owner of the Funky Monkey restaurant in Cheshire, a job she said would be easier if political leaders at the state and national levels would pay more attention to energy issues.

“The cost of electricity in Connecticut is really high,” Burrill said. “People expect our place to be air-conditioned and we have so much equipment that we use. With the cost of electricity, it’s really hard to keep going.”

Burrill said she is also concerned about how frequently power outages occur in the state.

“I’ve had two major claims on (food) spoilage in the past year,” she said. “It’s quite disruptive to our business.”

Much of the focus of the 5th District congressional race has been focused on the economy and scandals involving the campaigns of several of the candidates. That has left voters like Burrill in a difficult position when it comes to assessing where the candidates stand on energy issues.

“I have to tell you, I really don’t hear that much about it,” she said.

Candidates in the Republican and Democratic primaries being held Tuesday were asked for their positions on the issues that people like Burrill care about.

BERNIER: IMPROVE THE GRID

Republican Justin Bernierof Plainville said Connecticut’s energy costs could be lowered if the state was more focused on expanding the state’s energy infrastructure: electric transmission lines, natural gas pipelines and power plants.

Justin Bernier (Register Citizen Photo/Rick Thomason)

“For the last 30 years, the state hasn’t done enough to promote infrastructure improvement,” Bernier said. “We need a comprehensive plan to improve the grid and to increase our generation capacity.”

But because of Connecticut’s business climate, Bernier said he has serious doubts about energy-related companies’ willingness to invest here.

ESTY: INCREASE FUEL EFFICIENCY

Elizabeth Esty speaks at a 5th District congressional debate in Torrington. (Register Citizen photo/Rick Thomason)

Democrat Elizabeth Esty, who lives in Cheshire, agrees that a comprehensive energy strategy is a high priority at a national level. Esty, who served on the General Assembly’s Energy and Technology Committee during her one term as a state representative, said she would want to serve on Congress’ Energy and Commerce Committee if she wins her party’s primary and is elected to serve the 5th District in November.

“The fact is, Congress has been kicking the can down the road for a long time,” she said. “We can’t wait any longer. We need policies that support efficiency, both to move us towards energy independence and to help bring down costs for struggling families.”

Esty said lawmakers in Washington need to push for higher production of fuel-efficient vehicles “to reduce our dependence on foreign oil and reduce gas prices.”

“And we must protect and increase our investments in research and development in the renewable-energy and clean-technology industries,” she said. “This is going to be essential for us, not only to lower energy costs and create jobs, but also to ensure that America continues to be an economic leader in the 21st century — benefiting from developing processes and products that we can license and sell to the world.”

GREENBERG: DRILL TO INDEPENDENCE

Republican Mark Greenberg supports a more market-focused approach to driving down energy costs. Greenberg, a Litchfield resident, said U.S. energy policy “should rely on market forces and private research-and-development capabilities.”

Mark Greenberg (Register Citizen Photo/Rick Thomason)

“To reduce electrical costs in our state and nation, we must lower energy-related taxes and we must achieve energy independence as quickly as possible,” he said. “Connecticut has the highest energy-related taxes in the country, created by over-taxation and our continued reliance on foreign oil.”

To expedite America’s energy independence, Greenberg favors expanding the nation’s domestic sources.

“If we drill or expand drilling in three domestic areas — the National Petroleum Reserve in Alaska, the Bakken formation in North Dakota and Montana, as well as off the East Coast of our country — the United States could be energy independent in 15 years,” he said.

DONOVAN: FOCUS ON CLEAN ENERGY

Chris Donovan speaks at a 5th District congressional debate in Torrington. (Register Citizen photo/Rick Thomason)

While Greenberg and several other Republicans favor largely market-driven approaches to energy costs, Democrat Chris Donovan of Meriden believes the federal government should be playing a more active role in working toward a solution.

“By prioritizing investments in clean-energy research, development and infrastructure on a national level, we can send a clear message to the markets that we’re serious about renewable energy and the accompanying green jobs, triggering the large-scale private investments that are key to a working green economy,” Donovan said. “By working to implement a system that penalizes the very worst polluters, we’ll put in place a strong incentive to reduce carbon emissions while creating a revenue stream for new investments in clean-energy infrastructure, the national electric grid and in energy-efficiency programs.”

ROBERTI: RETIRE OLD PLANTS

Democrat Dan Robertisaid not enough attention is being paid to the impact that Connecticut’s aging power plants are doing to the state’s economy and its environment.

Dan Roberti speaks at a 5th District congressional debate in Torrington. (Register Citizen photo/Rick Thomason)

“Air pollution created by emissions from coal-powered generation is still a concern in the state,” Roberti, who lives in Kent, said. “In Congress, I will promote clean-energy options, which are positive for the environment and also have the potential to create jobs.”

Geothermal, wind and solar energies are also cost-effective and clean alternatives to fossil fuels, he said.

Two of the candidates in the Republican primary — Andrew Roraback and Lisa Wilson-Foley — spoke in lesser detail when asked about what they would do to lower the costs of energy if elected to Congress.

WILSON-FOLEY: INCREASE PRODUCTION

Lisa Wilson-Foley (Register Citizen Photo/Rick Thomason)

“One of the methods to reduce costs is to have a viable national energy policy,” Lisa Wilson-Foley, a Simsbury resident, said. “Reducing the reliance of foreign oil through more domestic exploration and production of oil, natural gas, clean coal and nuclear power would make more energy available to be transmitted at less cost to Connecticut businesses and residences.”

RORABACK: FOCUS ON NATURAL GAS

Andrew Roraback, of Goshen, said the best and quickest way to help bring down the price of energy in Connecticut is to “find ways to improve the availability and distribution of natural gas … so as to permit cleaner and less expensive generation of electricity.”

Andrew Roraback (Register Citizen Photo/Rick Thomason)

FUEL CELLS: A GROWING INDUSTRY

But many in Connecticut believe the way to stimulate the state’s economy and promote cleaner energy at the same time is to focus on expanding the cluster of companies in the state that are in the fuel cell business. Companies like FuelCell Energy have operations in Danbury and Torrington. And while Proton OnSite is based just outside the district, the Wallingford company has shown enough promise to attract a $1 million grant recently from the U.S. Energy Department.

“Connecticut is poised to be a leader in fuel cell and electrolysis technologies; the 5th District already has plants in towns like Danbury and New Britain,” Roberti said. “Fuel cell power plants can be twice as efficient as conventional fossil fuel plants. This industry provides good-paying jobs in a cutting-edge field that is expected to grow as energy demands increase.”

The state’s fuel cell sector supports more than 2,400 jobs in Connecticut and $340 million in gross state product, according to Roberti.

Esty said that while representing the 103rd House District, she called for a focus on renewable and green-energy jobs. The endorsement of her candidacy by the two co-chairmen of the legislature’s Environment Committee is further evidence that she supports renewable energy, according to Esty.

“I also fought for legislation that would make efficiency technology more affordable for homeowners and businesses and provide consumer protections for electric ratepayers to bring down utility rates and help Connecticut businesses create jobs,” she said.

Like Roberti, Esty believes that America’s dependence on fossil fuels has serious negative consequences for Connecticut, both in terms of the state’s health and its economy.

“But while we face significant challenges, we also have an enormous opportunity to put our state at the forefront of developing new energy sources and increasing efficiency,” she said.

Esty said that when she toured FuelCell Energy’s factory in Torrington she was told the company had recently hired its 500th employee. The company was also recently awarded a $3.8 million contract to research a propulsion system for the U.S. Navy.

Donovan said that with movement on the federal and state levels to prioritize investments in renewable energies, Connecticut needs a strong advocate in Congress.

“I will … fight to expand Connecticut’s cluster of clean-energy companies and ensure that our companies have access to the investment funds that they need to grow,” he said, naming U.S. Rep. John B. Larson, D-1, as one “who has been a strong leader on helping to support the fuel cell industry.”

Two of the four Republicans in the primary — Bernier and Wilson-Foley — had little to say when asked to comment on Connecticut’s fuel cell industry. Roraback said the FuelCell Energy contract “highlights the importance of developing new alternative energy technology as it plays into Connecticut’s economy.

“Connecticut is also home to growing solar and wind-technology companies, whose future growth is limitless,” he said. “These industries are promising ventures for our state and our country.”

Greenberg said the state and federal governments “should encourage the development of all alternative, renewable energy sources, including solar, geothermal, wind and fuel cells,” especially since Connecticut’s fleet of power plants is aging.

“More than one-third of Connecticut’s power-generation capacity was built between 1954 and 1973,” he said. “Those power plants have received upgrades over the years, but upgraded plants are not as efficient as new generating sources.

“Modern plants are more than 50 percent more efficient than the power plants of the last generation and they use half the amount of fuel to generate electricity.”

REPUBLICANS: CUT TAXES, COSTS

But much of the focus of Bernier, Wilson-Foley and Greenberg is on reducing taxes and other industry-related costs that they say are holding back energy companies’ investments in Connecticut.

Bernier, for example, focused on his opposition to cap-and-trade policies at the state and federal levels.

Cap-and-trade programs are popular among some as a way to reduce air pollution in a nation or region while still allowing regulated companies some flexibility to meet the pollution standards. Under such a system, companies are issued credits based on their size and industry.

If a company’s air pollution emissions come in below its allotted limit, it receives extra credits, which it may sell or trade with other companies. Connecticut is a member of a regional cap-and-trade group with other Northeastern states.

Bernier views cap-and-trade programs “as an energy tax that has nothing to do with cleaning up emissions.

“This is the kind of agreement New Jersey opted out of because it was killing that state’s economy,” he said. “When you increase energy costs in a certain area of the country, you are only driving businesses away to other areas.”

Greenberg favors reducing taxes that he says contribute to the state’s high cost of electricity.

“Energy taxes, including the gas tax, should be lowered and the gross receipts tax should be repealed permanently,” Greenberg said.

Wilson-Foley said state and federal financial investment in specific energy companies or industries “shows the public sector is more of a problem than a solution.”

“More importantly, heavy government involvement keeps other entrepreneurs from participating in many new exciting technologies,” she said.

Email Luther Turmelle at lturmelle@nhregister.com. Follow our 5th District coverage on Twitter @5thDistrictCT or Facebook @CT5thDistrict.

Democrats air TV ads hoping to avoid Roraback as GOP nominee

A Democratic super PAC is taking the unusual step of criticizing a Republican congressional candidate for being too liberal in an apparent attempt to manipulate the Republican field.

Republican 5th District candidate Andrew Roraback held a press conference today responding to an attack advertisement paid for by Super PAC Patriot Majority.

“Never before in the history of Connecticut has there been such a cynical ploy to deceive the voters,” Roraback said.

Patriot Majority announced that it spent close to $200,000 on a TV buy fighting Roraback. The ad, titled “No Friend,” which is not yet available online but has been aired on television, is an apparent attempt to get a more Conservative candidate elected as the Republican nominee, suggesting that Roraback’s policies are too liberal.

Roraback said Patriot Majority was buying “false and misleading television ads in an effort to alter the outcome of the Republican primary to be held on Aug. 14 and to prevent him from becoming the candidate they will face in the November election.”

“It is historic, unprecedented and a complete subversion of the democratic process,” he said during a short interview prior to the press conference. “This kind of manipulation is what sickens people about politics in America today.”

At Thursday’s press conference, Roraback said the intention of the Patriot Majority ad was to aid Democrat Chris Donovan, who he called a “potential felon.”

Two members of Donovan’s campaign staff were arrested and charged for allegedly attempting to influence state legislation in exchange for nearly $30,000 in campaign donations, and then trying to conceal the source of those donations. Donovan has not been charged.

“It’s no secret why this super pac is spending $200,000 trying to bring me down. Because they’re trying to make this seat safe for a potential felon, Chris Donovan,” Roraback said. “But instead of investing their money to support Chris Donovan’s candidacy, they think it’s smarter to spend their money misrepresenting my record.”

State Republican Party Chairman Jerry Labriola Jr. said the ad was “outrageous.”

“At a time when the best the Democrats have to offer is a candidate whose entire senior management team has either been arrested or under investigation, a second candidate who has been bought and paid for by corporate interests who do business with her husband or the state of Connecticut, and a third who has no discernable work history or connection to the 5th Congressional District, it is unconscionable that Washington Democrats would insert themselves into this race,” Labriola said during an interview.

“I find it outrageous that a Democratic ‘Super PAC’ would run ads attacking our party-endorsed candidate, Senator Andrew Roraback, with exaggerated and unfounded claims in an obvious effort to influence the outcome of our Republican Primary,” he wrote in an emailed release.

Craig Varoga, president of Patriot Majority, did not return calls for comment. He is described on his website as “one of America’s most successful political strategists.”

Roraback sent out an email to supporters Thursday, saying that Patriot Majority has “close ties to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.”  Varoga was communications director for Reid in the 1990s.

“I’m calling on Republicans in the 5th District to stand up and unite around me to send a message to these outsiders in Washington D.C. that we’re not going to be fooled by their outrageous attacks,” Roraback said.

Patriot Majority is a “super PAC,” a political action committee that has no limits on the amount of money it can raise and spend. The existence of super PACs was made possible by the U.S. Supreme Court decision known as Citizens United, a decision Roraback said he would work against should he be elected.

“I would vote to repeal that decision or offer a Constitutional amendment to repeal that decision,” he said, calling Citizens United “corrosive to our democracy.”

“Senator Roraback’s attack on Super PACs is the epitome of hypocrisy,” Nancy DiNardo, chairwoman of the Democratic Party of Connecticut, said in a release. “This is a politician who voted against campaign finance reform in Connecticut. He is the endorsed candidate of the Republican party which has trumpeted the Supreme Court’s decision in the Citizens United case, and allowed billions of dollars to flow into the coffers of Republican candidates’ campaigns via these super PACs.”


Big gap between average 5th District voter and average 5th District candidate

By Matt DeRienzo, Staff Reporter

Seven candidates are competing to replace Chris Murphy as Connecticut’s next representative in Congress from the 5th District.

Four of them have personal wealth allowing them to give between $500,000 and $1.5 million – each – to their campaigns. Two are doing this for the second election in a row.

Two of them are lawyers who graduated from Yale. One graduated from both Harvard AND Yale.

Two have spent half of their adult lives as members of the Connecticut legislature.

In contrast, the median household income in the 5th District was $60,460 in 2010, down nearly 10 percent from $66,058 the year before. They struggle to pay their mortgages. And in contrast to the state employee plan that legislators receive, they pay a huge amount of money out of pocket for health insurance.

The 5th District includes cities such as New Britain, Waterbury, Meriden, Danbury and Torrington that are home to hulking empty relics of a once-vibrant manufacturing economy.

The huge gap between the wealth and life experiences of the average 5th District candidate and the average 5th District resident, and the over-the-top investment some have made in their own campaigns, raises the question: Will voters turn to the candidate who is most like them?

Lisa Wilson-Foley (Register Citizen Photo/Rick Thomason)

Republican Lisa Wilson-Foley is a millionaire whose husband owns a chain of more than two dozen nursing homes in Connecticut, among other businesses. Her description of the “real world experience” she’d bring to Congress at a recent debate? “I own a bowling alley. I own a golf course.” She’s spent $685,000 on her own campaign this year, after spending significant personal funds two years ago on an unsuccessful primary bid for lieutenant governor.

Republican Mark Greenberg has estimated his net worth at between $20 million and $60 million, and he’s spent more than $1.5 million on his campaign this year after spending more than $1 million on an unsuccessful run in the 5th District two years ago.

Mark Greenberg (Register Citizen Photo/Rick Thomason)

Despite their wealth, both Greenberg and Wilson-Foley cite their modest upbringings and say they are self-made people who pursued the American Dream and want that for the next generation.

Democrat Dan Roberti, on the other hand, acquired his money through a trust fund set up by his father, powerful Washington, D.C., lobbyist and movie producer Vin Roberti. The 30-year-old first-time candidate has poured $835,000 into his own campaign and has benefited from big-dollar out-of-state donations and endorsements from people connected to his father.

Dan Roberti speaks at a 5th District congressional debate in Torrington. (Register Citizen photo/Rick Thomason)

Democrat Elizabeth Esty and Republican Andrew Roraback are the Ivy League candidates in the race. Both are attorneys who graduated from Yale – Roraback for his undergrad degree and Esty for her law degree.

Esty has a Harvard degree, to boot, and her husband has been a paid advisor to big utility companies and is now commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection. Esty’s father was a corporate CEO, although her campaign says her family’s wealth was not really acquired until she was an adult and out of the house. Esty recently loaned her campaign $500,000.

Elizabeth Esty speaks at a 5th District congressional debate in Torrington. (Register Citizen photo/Rick Thomason)

Roraback is a “country lawyer” in the third generation of his family’s Torrington law firm, Roraback and Roraback. He’s served in the legislature for more than 17 years. He doesn’t have the personal wealth that has enabled other candidates to self-fund their campaigns, but has been attacked by the Connecticut Democratic Party for having a “nice house” in Goshen that implicitly makes him “out of touch” with struggling low-income families in, for example, New Britain.

Andrew Roraback (Register Citizen Photo/Rick Thomason)

Democrat Chris Donovan has also been hit with the “career politician” label. He joined the Connecticut legislature two years before Roraback, and is wrapping up service as Speaker of the House after working previously as majority leader and in other leadership roles.

But Donovan and Republican Justin Bernier are the 5th District candidates who can claim to be “most like” the average 5th District voter.

Neither have personal fortunes to contribute to a political campaign.

Coincidentally, Donovan and Bernier are both one of eight children – Donovan fifth of eight growing up in a Philadelphia suburb and Bernier the oldest of eight growing up in Farmington.

They had to share a room with their siblings, figure out how to pay for college by working one or more jobs on the side, figure out how to afford a mortgage.

Justin Bernier (Register Citizen Photo/Rick Thomason)

Bernier was an Eagle Scout in high school and on the swim team at Fordham University. He worked his way up as a staffer for Congressman Rob Simmons in Washington, and is the only 5th District candidate to serve overseas – a stint in Afghanistan with the Navy.

But just because you identify personally with the middle class doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll advocate for government policies that would help them.

Bernier and Donovan have completely opposite approaches to most issues. So one of them has to be wrong.

Donovan has billed himself as “the only candidate in the race who has fought for working families.” His own household income has been middle class, and he has spent his career as a labor union organizer. Even his career in the legislature, his campaign spokespeople say, has been focused on helping the little guy by passing minimum wage increases, expanding health insurance coverage and shifting the tax burden in Connecticut more toward millionaires. He would push for a $12 federal minimum wage, truly universal health care and for raising taxes on the wealthy.

Chris Donovan speaks at a 5th District congressional debate in Torrington. (Register Citizen photo/Rick Thomason)

Bernier says that this kind of government interference in the free market has slowed economic growth and done more to harm middle class families in the 5th District than anything else. Bernier would repeal the Affordable Care Act, rather than expand it as Donovan advocates. He opposes extension of President Obama’s middle class tax cut, and would instead slash corporate tax rates, which he believes would spur economic growth, create jobs and increase the income and opportunities for middle class families far beyond what the middle class tax cut has done.

A candidate won’t necessarily do the wrong thing for middle class families just because they’re a millionaire who doesn’t share the same day-to-day struggles. And a candidate who identifies personally with the middle class won’t necessarily do the right thing.

But in two close primary races on Aug. 14, it will be interesting to see how much importance 5th District voters place on where a candidate is coming from vs. how they say they’ll vote.

Email Matt DeRienzo at mderienzo@journalregister.com. Follow our 5th District coverage on Twitter @5thDistrictCT or on Facebook @CT5thDistrict.