An ongoing campaign financial scandal and millions in Super PAC money proved too much for House Speaker Chris Donovan to overcome Tuesday in a three-way primary for the Democratic nomination in the 5th U.S. Congressional District.
Donovan, who called and conceded the race to former state Rep. Elizabeth Esty, used his concession speech to call for campaign finance reform at the federal level.
“This race brought Citizens United to our doorsteps,” Donovan said. “And mailboxes and TV sets and now Connecticut knows we need campaign finance reform at the federal level just like the law I passed at the state level.”
Donovan maintained that he focused his race on the working families in the 5th District, but he was dogged by the federal investigation that brought charges against his former finance director and former campaign manager, who allegedly hid the source of $27,500 in campaign donations. The two staffers have pleaded not guilty.
Donovan has not been charged with any wrongdoing by federal authorities and has maintained he had no knowledge of the alleged scheme to kill a bill that would have imposed fees on some tobacco shop owners.
While voters like Ruth Meiselman believed Donovan, it was unclear what would happen in November.
“Donovan—there’s too much going on. Too much uneasiness,” she said earlier in the day at Farmington High School.
Lori Pelletier, secretary treasurer of the AFL-CIO, said the unions did everything they could to get their voters to the polls for Donovan.
“We made thousands of phone calls, dropped thousands of pieces of literature, and visited hundreds of work sites,” Pelletier said. “We did what we were supposed to do.”
Donovan said he called Esty to concede the race before greeting his supporters at the Curtis Cultural Center in Meriden.
“We have a new Democratic nominee and we gotta keep fighting for the issues we all care about,” Donovan said as he pushed his way through the media to a teary crowd of union supporters.
Donovan is still an endorsed candidate on the Working Families Party line and could be a candidate in November.
Lindsay Farrell, executive director of the Working Families Party, who was at the gathering Tuesday said her coalition still has to meet to discuss which candidate they will support in November.
Currently, Donovan is the only one who can remove his name from that ballot line.
Following her victory speech, Esty told reporters there’s no way to tell how much of an impact the federal investigation had on the results of the primary race.
“I think we’ll never know. There are so many factors that go into voters’ decisions. And as somebody who knows the importance of timing with my own race in 2010, timing matters a lot in politics and we never really will know,” she said.
Esty wouldn’t speculate on whether Democrats would have lost the seat if Donovan had received the nomination. She said the topic of her conversations with both Donovan and Dan Roberti after they conceded was the need to focus on unifying as a party.
“We’re all committed to moving forward with a unified Democratic party to defend this seat in November,” she said.
During her victory speech, Esty told supporters to expect a tough battle between now and November. She noted that the 5th district is a politically competitive district that Republicans have a shot at winning.
“We are going to have to work incredibly hard to defend this seat. Everybody here knows it—this is a purple seat and it looks like it’s going to be Andrew Roraback. We have our work cut out for us,” she said.
In Waterbury at the Esty victory party, excitement grew throughout the night.
As the results trickled in, Esty supporters huddled around an iPad in the center of the ballroom refreshing precinct results. Periodically the campaign’s finance director, Brian Weeks, would step to a microphone and announced the results of towns as they came in. Each time a town reported for Esty the crowd cheered.
Esty’s husband, Energy and Environmental Protection Commissioner Dan Esty made his rounds around the room throughout the night but declined to speak with reporters about his wife’s campaign.
“I’m not commenting tonight. This is Elizabeth’s night,” he said.
Dan Esty was somewhat drawn into the race by Roberti, who ran TV spots criticizing Elizabeth Esty for accepting contributions from donors her husband regulates as DEEP commissioner.
But before the night was out news spread that Roberti had conceded the race and endorsed Esty. The announcement got a huge cheer out of the growing crowd.
When she arrived in Waterbury, Esty said she started the day a 4:30 a.m. and hit a total of 19 different polling places before heading to the Coco Key Hotel where her victory party was locat.
Turnout seemed light at the polls Esty hit but she said she wasn’t surprised since it was summertime.
“But I’m used to municipal elections which are also kind of light so, again, the key is getting your own voters there and winning the majority of them and then you win. So we’ll see what happens,” Esty said as she arrived in Waterbury.
Around 9 p.m. an excited crowd applauded when a campaign staffer announced the Hartford Courant was reporting that with 46 percent of precincts reporting, Esty led the field at 46 percent of the vote.
Roberti, who curtailed his campaign to be with his mother who died on Saturday, said “I will do everything I can to elect Elizabeth Esty to the U.S. Congress.”
Around 10:30 p.m. Roberti made a stop at the Esty victory party to congratulate his former opponent. Roberti, who spent more than $900,000 of his own money on the race, pointed out it was important not to lose the seat in the 5th to the Republicans.