State Sen. Andrew Roraback said that as he spoke with Republican leaders in western Connecticut this fall, several of them said he could be the party’s frontrunner if he entered the race for the open seat in the Fifth Congressional District.
“I reached out to the people who are now supporting me, and asked, ‘Who in this race do you think can win with [state House Speaker] Chris Donovan being the presumptive [Democratic] nominee?’ ” he said. “The feedback I was getting was that there was a lack of confidence that any of the candidates in the field has what it takes to beat Chris Donovan.”
Roraback of Goshen said those conversations “began in earnest in September” and a month later he launched his bid for the GOP nomination.
Former gubernatorial cabinet member Justin Bernier of Plainville, Farmington Town Council Chairman Mike Clark, businesswoman Lisa Wilson-Foley of Simsbury and real estate developer Mark Greenberg of Litchfield, all Republicans, have been in the race for months.
Bernier placed second and Greenberg was third in last year’s GOP primary, behind then-state Sen. Sam Caligiuri of Waterbury, who announced last February that he would not make a second bid in the sprawling district, which covers 41 municipalities.
Roraback, who has a perfect record with 8,470 consecutive roll call votes over the last 17 years, is the only candidate in the GOP field to have served as a state legislator.
The Fifth District has elected seven congressmen over the last 40 years and only one of them, Gary Franks of Waterbury, hasn’t been a member of the General Assembly.
‘When I spoke to the Republican leaders in the district, more of them said, ‘If you run, I will support you enthusiastically,’ ” Roraback said during an interview in New Milford. “They told me, ‘You have the experience and the record. Do it.’ ”
He said some of those same people had encouraged him to run in 2008, shortly after he married his wife, Kara, and in 2010, just after their son, Andrew Kevin, was born.
“The timing wasn’t right either time,” he said.
“He’s incredibly well qualified, largely because he’s one of the brightest members of the General Assembly and he also is so likable that you would want to have him as a neighbor,” state Rep. David Scribner, R-Brookfield, said. “He’s always coming up with ideas to improve legislation on the Finance, Revenue, and Bonding Committee. He also represents a district with 15 towns, which takes in a lot of the territory in the Fifth District.”
“I can’t imagine a better opponent to run against Chris Donovan than Andrew,” he added. “I like Chris, but he always wants to spend more tax money. Andrew is a conservative on fiscal issues and a moderate on social issues, who can work with a lot of different people.”
“To win this race you have to appeal to unaffiliated voters, which make up 45 percent of the electorate,” said Roraback who was first elected to the state House in 1994 and then captured the seat in the 30th state Senate District in 2000 after Republican M. Adela Eads of Kent, the former President Pro Tempore, retired.
“I think there are a lot of moderate Republican, Democrat, and unaffiliated voters who will be attracted to Andrew,” Scribner said. “We need people like him in Washington, because, for example, I saw on television the other day that 20 years ago there were a lot of senators who were considered moderates and now there are none.”
“Throughout my career, I’ve won nine elections in districts that are anything but safe for Republicans,” Roraback said, noting that he has captured towns in the Northwest Corner of Litchfield County that have strongly supported Democrat Chris Murphy of Cheshire in the last three congressional elections.
He said he believes he can also win in the Farmington Valley, which also has been a stronghold for Murphy, who announced in January that he would seek the Democratic nomination for the U.S. Senate seat that is being vacated by U.S. Sen. Joe Lieberman.
Scribner, who is one of several GOP lawmakers who have endorsed Roraback, said that since he already is well recognized his late entry into the race will only be a small handicap.
“His candidacy has actually brought a significant change to the landscape for the Republican nomination,” he said. “It’s not clear which candidates will be remaining in the race over the long haul.”
However, Scribner said the Republicans face hurdles in the Fifth District since presidential elections usually generate a larger Democratic turnout and national and state Democratic organizations will aggressively try to retain the seat that Murphy won in a stunning upset in 2006 over Republican Nancy Johnson of New Britain, who has served in the U.S. House longer than any member from Connecticut.
It appears both the Republican and Democratic nominations will be determined in primaries next August.
Donovan of Meriden, who was first elected to the state House in 1992, is being challenged for the Democratic nomination by former state Rep. Elizabeth Esty of Cheshire and consultant Dan Roberti of Kent. Wesleyan Professor Michael Williams dropped out of the race a few weeks ago.
Since entering the race, Roraback has hired Anna McGuire of North Canaan, who has worked on Republican congressional campaigns dating back to Johnson’s races in the now-defunct Sixth District, as his campaign manager and scheduled six fundraising events for the current quarter.
Roraback, who has accepted only one Political Action Committee contribution during his legislative career, said that special interest money “will be a necessity” if he is to raise the $2 million to $3 million needed to win the seat.
“I can’t compete with one arm tied behind my back,” he said.
Scribner said Roraback has been a fiscal watchdog, even voting as a member of the Bond Commission against proposals that would have benefited his district.
“It wasn’t fun for me to vote against funding to pay for part of a new playground in Brookfield,” Roraback said. “However, I can’t justify paying for that when there is a homeless shelter at risk in Torrington. It seemed as though our priorities are out whack.”
He said he opposes raising federal taxes as the economy slowly recovers from a recession, but “If the Democrats in Washington made substantive budget reductions, I would support increasing revenue if it could be accomplished through closing tax loopholes.”
Roraback said until “the housing market rebounds, the economy is going to remain stagnant.”
However, he said he disagrees with Murphy, who has said that the federal government should offer a refinancing vehicle with lower interest rates and longer payment terms to homeowners who are facing foreclosure.
“The federal government already has a number of programs to help homeowners in jeopardy,” Roraback said. “I don’t think we need more programs. I think the answer is creating an environment that is conducive to economic growth.”