Democrat Elizabeth Esty won a nail-biter election in the 5th Congressional District as Republican Andrew Roraback conceded late Tuesday night after Democratic votes from the cities provided the margin of victory.
Esty said that super PACs had spent millions of dollars against her in an expensive, high-stakes battle that was marked by a barrage of negative television commercials that battered both candidates. But she said that she, like U.S. Senate candidate Chris Murphy, had overcome the money that was spent against her.
"We proved in the House and we proved in the Senate that Connecticut cannot be bought,'' Esty said. "Being on the receiving end of the super PACs makes me more committed than ever to campaign finance reform.''
She added: "Let's face it, folks. We were up against the odds in this one.''
A graduate of Harvard College and Yale Law School, Esty said she made several decisions to get involved in public life that have led her to the major political prize of going to Washington, D.C.
"Ten years ago, I was an angry PTA mom,'' Esty told the crowd. "Seven years ago … I realized I had to make a decision to step up'' to run for the town council in Cheshire. When Murphy decided to leave his seat in the U.S. House and run for the U.S. Senate, Esty said, "I knew I had to make the decision to step up again.''
Regarding Roraback, she said, "He's a good man and a committed public servant.''
Esty's win came on a night when President Barack Obama and U.S. Senate candidate Chris Murphy swept to victory in Connecticut, helping Esty as large numbers of Democrats came to the polls.
"Democrats have been outspent in race after race after race,'' Gov. Dannel P. Malloy told the crowd at Esty's victory party in Waterbury. "Tonight, we won them all. … The bluest state of all states is as blue as its ever been.''
In an emotional concession speech in Torrington, Roraback thanked his supporters.
"All I want to say to each of you is thank you for believing in me,'' Roraback told the crowd. "We ran a super campaign — came up a few votes short. … No force is more powerful than the force of your friendship.''
Roraback won several small towns in the early results, but Esty was counting on thousands of votes in the Democrat-leaning cities to wipe out that early lead. Roraback won his hometown of Goshen by 75 percent to 25 percent, but the final results in the Democratic strongholds of Meriden, Waterbury, Danbury, and New Britain came in later and proved to be the margin of victory.
With the polls so tight, the battle came down to turnout. Esty's spokesman, Jeb Fain, repeatedly said Esty had a much stronger grassroots operation than Roraback and predicted that would prove to be the difference.
"We feel very good,'' Fain said on FOX CT television. "Our field operation has done what it needed to do to get out the vote. … We feel very confident.''
Roraback said that his get-out-the-vote efforts were led by a full complement of spirited volunteers and seasoned political veterans, including former state legislators Brian Mattiello and Brian Flaherty, former state Republican Chairman Bill Hamzy and Torrington Mayor Ryan Bingham. Roraback has been a proven vote-getter as a state senator in 15 towns in northwestern Litchfield County, where his family has been a well-known name in public life for the past century.
While the combatants emphasized their differences in debates and commercials, they actually have similar backgounds as lawyers, Ivy League graduates and elected officials. Roraback has represented a far larger area as a state senator, covering 15 towns in Litchfield County, while Esty was a one-term lawmaker in the state House of Representatives from her hometown of Cheshire and surrounding communities.
Major TV Ad Blitz
The campaign's final days were marked by a major blitz of more than $1 million in TV advertising paid by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg's super PAC in favor of Roraback as a moderate Republican who supports gay marriage, gun control and public education. Esty repeatedly tried to tie Roraback to the conservatives in the U.S. House of Representatives, citing fundraising trips to Connecticut by House Speaker John Boehner and the conservative majority leader, Eric Cantor. But Roraback countered that he would vote independently of his party leadership in the same way that he has during the past 18 years in Hartford.
During multiple debates, the candidates clashed over health care as Roraback said he would vote to repeal President Obama's health-reform act as too costly. Esty the Affordable Care Act, known widely as Obamacare, as a good start. Both candidates pledged to preserve Social Security and Medicare — two key issues for elderly citizens who turn out in big numbers to vote.
Roraback, who has used his Spanish skills to reach out to voters, had more political experience with nearly two decades in Hartford. Esty served on the town council in Cheshire and then for two years in the state House before losing her seat in a rematch in November 2010 with Republican Al Adinolfi. Esty voted to abolish the death penalty, and she said she believes that position — highly unpopular in Cheshire after the triple murders of the family of Dr. William Petit — cost her the House seat.
As the candidates battled for momentum, both campaigns released polls last month that placed their candidate in the lead. Two of the nation's best-known political prognosticators pronounced the race as a toss-up heading into Election Day.
In the 41-town district, where unaffiliated voters outnumber Democrats and Republicans, both candidates were battling for the independent vote. The district stretches from Simsbury to Danbury to Salisbury and touches both the New York and Massachusetts borders.
Overall, the candidates and outside groups spent more than $6 million on the campaign. Esty collected more than $2.7 million in contributions and personal loans as of mid-October, and Roraback had raised $1.1 million. Those totals, though, do not include the money from Bloomberg's super PAC, more than $1 million from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee that opposed Roraback, and more than $1 million from an Ohio-based Super PAC known as the Government Integrity Fund Action Network that opposed Esty.
Roraback criticized Esty's fundraising, saying that she accepted money from individuals who work for businesses that her husband, Daniel Esty, regulates as commissioner of the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection. But Esty countered by asking Roraback to focus on her record — and not her husband's career.
In a recent interview with The Courant, Roraback said he believes his "socially moderate, fiscally prudent" message was resonating with voters, while Fain countered that Roraback had attracted support from "right-wingers." He added that Esty shares the values of Connecticut's middle class.
Esty beat state House Speaker Christopher Donovan and newcomer Dan Roberti in a three-way Democratic primary in mid-August after Donovan's campaign was marred by the arrest of two of his former campaign aides over illegal campaign financing. Roraback won a close, four-way Republican primary that sent him into the general election race.Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times