Scott Benjamin photo
Matthew Oakes outside the Triple A Diner in East Hartford (Scott Benjamin photo)

U.S. Senate candidate Matthew Oakes, a Democrat from East Hartford, said he represents “the average working class citizen.”

“I don’t think that any of the top three candidates for the Democratic nomination represent the average person,” he said. “I think the voters are disillusioned with them.”

Oakes, 38, who is disabled and living on Social Security, said former Secretary of the State Susan Bysiewicz of Middletown, U.S. Rep. Chris Murphy of Cheshire, and state Rep. William Tong of Stamford are attorneys who are attached to the special interest groups who have made contributions to their campaigns.

Murphy, who has been in Congress for six years, leads the fundraising with $4,247,648 through Mar. 31.

In contrast, Oakes said last week that he has only $207 in contributions and his campaign relies on himself and volunteers canvassing door-to-door.

“I think if you had public funding of campaigns, you would see very different legislation,” Oakes said. “The politicians would act differently if they were beholden to the public instead of the people they get their money from.”

Lois Petrolito of Hartford says she has known Oakes since he was a youngster.

“He’s one of us,” Petrolito said. “He tells it like it is.”

Oakes says he has worked hard throughout his life.

“Things haven’t come easily to me,” Oakes said.

At the urging of some of his teachers at Hartford Public High School, from which he graduated in 1992, Oakes said he began working in soup kitchens while in his teens.

“It got me energized to help people who are in the worst case,” Oakes said.

After attending Johnson & Wales University in Rhode Island for two years, he worked in production for Kodak and then Fuji film in the Hartford area.

Later, while working in sales at Family Dollar in Manchester, Oakes stopped at a going-away party in Hartford one night before delivering a bank deposit. After leaving the party, he was mugged by four assailants, who broke one of his legs in three places and caused other injuries, leaving him permanently disabled.

“I’m in constant pain,” Oakes, who walks with a cane, said. “It’s a constant struggle.”

He lives with his mother, Debra, in East Hartford, and has devoted much of his time to raising money for the Gay/Lesbian Center in Hartford and for cancer and Alzheimer’s disease research.

Oakes said that since he’s made many friends through his volunteer work and has an avid interest in government, he decided late last year to run for the U.S. Senate.

He said some Democratic Town Committees have refused to allow him to speak and it wasn’t until last week that he was able to obtain a list of all of the delegates to next month’s state convention.

Oakes said that two months ago, after the Brookfield Democrats became the first town committee to schedule him, he postponed an appearance to be interviewed on WFSB’s Face The State so he could make that engagement.

“We want to be hospitable,” Robert Marconi, a former congressional candidate and a member of the Brookfield Democratic Town Committee, said.

“I think most of our delegates will go to Chris Murphy and maybe one or two to Susan Bysiewicz, but it is important to hear all the candidates,” he said. “In Matthew’s case, we agree with him on many of the issues, but he doesn’t have the experience that the other candidates have.”

The reality of the situation isn’t lost on Oakes, a newcomer to politics.

“It’s as if some of the town committees already have determined that Chris Murphy is the frontrunner,” Oakes said.

In addition to Murphy’s fundraising advantage, last month’s Quinnipiac Poll indicated that he would defeat the other contenders in the primary and is ahead of the top Republican candidates in the general election.

Scott Benjamin photo
Matthew Oakes (Scott Benjamin photo)

Oakes said his campaign volunteer list has grown since he appeared in three televised debates in the last month.

He and his volunteers have been canvassing Hartford, Bridgeport, New Haven, Waterbury, Danbury, and Manchester over recent months.

“It’s not just my friends, but even the reporters said that I was more confident as we went through the debates,” Oakes said. “In particular, I got a boost of confidence in the Fox CT debate since it was live and there was an audience.”

He had not been included in earlier debates in Norwich and Mansfield.

Oakes said if he doesn’t capture at least the 15 percent of the delegates at the Democratic state convention to qualify for the Aug. 14 primary, he will try to collect enough signatures to get on that ballot.

He said depending on how party treats him over the coming weeks, he also might consider running as an independent candidate in the fall if he fails to win the primary.

Oakes said that although he supports some of President Barack Obama’s programs, former President Bill Clinton is his role model.

“I’m down the middle about Obama,” he said. “He’s been less successful than Clinton.”

“Clinton was the J.F.K. of our era,” Oakes said. “He is more charismatic than Obama and for a while he was able to work with a Republican Congress to reach important bipartisan compromises. There was less interparty warfare in the mid-1990’s.”

Oakes said that, like Clinton, he is a fiscal moderate.

“We’re going to have to make spending cuts and make sacrifices over the coming years to reduce the budget deficit,” he said. “That may mean cutting back on the defense budget, which has increased 70 percent since 2001.”

Oakes said he supports re-establishing the Pay-Go budget controls, which require that tax cuts be offset by spending reductions. That legislation lapsed about 10 years ago.

He said Congress also should bring back the Glass-Steagall Act, which required banks to separate their commercial and investment portfolios.

Critics have said the repeal of that legislation, which Clinton signed in 1999, turned the banks into casinos and was one of the causes of the 2008 financial crisis.

The economy is one of the issues Oakes hears about the most.

“As I go door-to-door, most people are concerned about what the future holds for their children and about the economy,” Oakes said.

“I see a lot of people on the streets of Hartford just hanging around,” he said. “I think a lot of it has to do with the economy.”

He said Obama should have aggressively addressed the housing crisis immediately after he signed the $787 billion stimulus package in early 2009.

Oakes said that most homeowners facing foreclosure or who have negative equity in their homes aren’t spending money on cars or appliances, which has slowed the economic recovery.

He said his family’s house has declined in value from $124,000 to $81,500 during the recession.

“We would have to miss three payments before we qualify for the federal program,” Oakes said.

“Why can’t you qualify if it has been identified that you are under water?” he said. “It doesn’t help the average voter. You shouldn’t have to go into bad credit to get help.”