Scott Benjamin photo
Sen. Andrew Roraback and Sen. Joan Hartley at an event in Waterbury (Scott Benjamin photo)

Over the past two weeks “everybody has been talking about” the FBI’s undercover sting operation and the arrest of House Speaker Chris Donovan’s former congressional finance director, Sen. Andrew Roraback, said during a recent interview.

Roraback is vying for the Republican nomination in the 5th Congressional District.

But the allegations against the Democratic congressional campaign aide, mainly that he conspired to conceal campaign contributions from individuals interested in blocking legislation, don’t seem to be having much of an impact on the Republican primary in the 5th Congressional District.

Donovan, who fired two other campaign aides in addition to the finance director, has not been charged and has said he has done nothing wrong. Meanwhile, on the campaign trail, Donovan has declined comment on the investigation, but calls for him to address the matter persist.

“I think the public, like so many of us, is scratching its head over how this could have happened, and what role, if any, the speaker had in what has alleged to have occurred,” Roraback said.

Roraback has been critical of Donovan’s lack of knowledge about the eight $2,500 straw donations at the center of the undercover sting operation.

“When someone writes a big check, I typically know who that person is, so that I can thank them,” Roraback said.

But with 8,500 donors to his campaign Donovan has admitted he didn’t know them all and Roraback admitted he doesn’t know all the facts regarding the investigation. What he does know is that the two candidates and veteran state lawmakers are handling their congressional campaigns much differently.

Roraback, a lawmaker since 1994, said he knows his small campaign staff well.

“I hire people who come highly recommended and have references that I check,” Roraback said when asked about how he assembled his campaign team.

On any given day the Donovan campaign has hundreds of volunteers at their offices making calls and knocking on doors for their candidate, Tom Swan, Donovan’s campaign manager has said. He scoffed at the smaller campaign operation being run by Roraback suggesting that if he doesn’t get more people to volunteer for the campaign then there’s no interest in it.

State Rep. David Scribner, who is supporting Roraback’s campaign, said he doesn’t believe the investigation into Donovan’s campaign will have any impact on who wins the Republican primary.

What he does know is that Roraback needs to reach more than 28,753 likely Republican voters before Aug. 14.

And he’s going to be doing it in the most frugal way possible.

“Every dollar we get is one that we shepherd and try to get the most value for,” Roraback said.

Roraback, who considers himself a fiscal watchdog, said he’s treating the donations to his campaign coffers that same way he would treat taxpayers money.

“I’m asking voters to contribute to a frugal enterprise,” Roraback said.

But will frugal get the message out to tens of thousands of voters in 41 towns stretching from Salisbury to Newtown?

“We’re running this on a shoestring,” Roraback admitted.

Unlike Donovan, who opened satellite offices in Waterbury, New Britain and Danbury – Roraback said he will not expand beyond his headquarters in downtown Torrington before the Aug. 14 primary.

He said he has three full-time staff members, led by state Sen. Rob Kane, R-Watertown , who is managing the campaign, and “five or six” college students working part time.

The Republican Field

Roraback captured the Republican endorsement last month in Hartford on the third ballot after edging Simsbury business owner Lisa Wilson-Foley by one delegate on the first ballot.

Justin Bernier of Plainville and Mark Greenberg of Litchfield, who placed second and third, respectively, in the 2010 GOP primary, are also running for the nomination.

Former FBI agent and Farmington Town Council Chairman Mike Clark withdrew from the race two days before the convention and endorsed Roraback, which might have made the difference in boosting him past Wilson-Foley among the delegates.

Roraback and Wilson-Foley are the two favorites in the GOP primary, Scribner opined and the man who ran for the seat two years ago seems to agree.

“Lisa has a tremendous story to tell regarding her accomplishments in the private sector with health care and sports facilities,” former Sen. Sam Caligiuri of Waterbury said. “She is a very formidable candidate who was able to use that story to do well in the primary for lieutenant governor two years ago and it will likely help her in this primary.”

Caligiuri, who captured the 2010 endorsement for the seat, said that Roraback will benefit from being the endorsed candidate.

“Having the endorsement is worth a certain number of votes,” he said. “Nobody can tell how many, but I know in talking with some primary voters that were in doubt, they went with me because I had the convention endorsement.”

“Having the endorsement of my party, even being the last candidate to get into the race, has been a huge boost,” Roraback, who didn’t formally announce his candidacy until last October, said regarding the reaction he’s received from voters since the convention. “It matters to voters that I was able to win that support.”

However, he said it is unfortunate that only registered Republicans will participate.

“I’m very sad that unaffiliated voters can’t vote in the Republican primary in August,” Roraback said in endorsing open primaries. “I would like to draw more people into the process.”

In addition to an active schedule of public events, Roraback said his campaign will primarily focus over the next eight weeks on phone calls, direct mail, and door to door visits to the 28,753 Republicans that have been identified as likely voters in the primary.

“The two best ways to contact those voters are direct mail and phone calls,” Caligiuri said. “We had a phone bank throughout the primary campaign and called each of the 30,000 likely Republican primary voters at least twice.”

But having money to get out the vote doesn’t hurt either.

Roraback said since entering the race eight months ago, he has raised more money than any of his GOP rivals.

However, Greenberg and Wilson-Foley both have a considerable personal wealth that may be deployed during the primary.

“If you have a lot of financial resources it can make a difference if they are spent properly,” Caligiuri said. “Mark Greenberg spent money on broadcast television two years ago, for example, which reached a lot of voters that we’re going to participate in the primary. If some of that money had been focused more on the primary voters, he might have moved the needle more.”

Roraback said he has knocked on doors throughout his legislative career, which began in 1994 when he was elected to the state House. He was initially elected to the state Senate in 2000.

“The best way to get unfiltered information from the horse’s mouth is to bring yourself to the voters, who have a chance to look you in the eye and let you know what’s on their mind,” he said.