(Updated 6:35 p.m.) The federal investigation involving Chris Donovan’s congressional campaign was on the minds of some Democrats heading to the polls in Farmington Tuesday. Several former supporters said they casted votes for his primary opponent Elizabeth Esty due to their uneasiness.
Donovan is the party endorsed candidate for the 5th district and had been considered the favorite in the race. But the charges brought against his former finance director and former campaign manager for hiding the source of $27,500 in campaign donations in exchange for defeating legislation, hasn’t helped his image with voters. His former staffers have pleaded not guilty to the charges.
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.
For the most part, voters in Farmington say they believe the state House speaker. Nonetheless voters willing to cast ballots for him were in short supply.
Fran and Bill Fitts said that, based on his voting record, they had intended to support Donovan in the election but they cast their ballots for Esty Tuesday afternoon instead. The federal investigation was “absolutely” a factor, they said.
“His associates that we didn’t know, the tobacco shop guys, it just didn’t seem like a class act,” Bill Fitts said.
Lorraine Neff, a former registrar of voters in Farmington, found herself in the same position.
“I would have voted for Donovan,” she said. “I’m just not quite sure what will happen by November, whether he will be cleared.”
The U.S. District Attorney’s Office has not commented on the ongoing investigation aside from press releases accompanying a series of indictments supporting the arrests of eight people. Even some hinting two weeks ago by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy was not enough to get prosecutors to say whether Donovan will at some point be a target of the investigation.
“That would be helpful and valuable information for the voters to make their decision on the 14. Without telling anyone how to do their job, that might be a useful piece of information,” Malloy said.
Without that information, Neff said she felt more comfortable choosing between Esty and primary challenger Dan Roberti of Kent. Neff said she didn’t know all that much about Esty but Roberti, at 30 years old, seemed a little young for the job.
“I just hope Esty won’t be too much of a swing voter,” she said.
Sandy Gervais, a Farmington real estate broker, said she is a registered Democrat but votes for who she thinks is best suited for the job. For instance, she’s considering voting for Republican Linda McMahon in the general election in November. Gervais had planned on voting for Donovan in the 5th district race but as a result of the investigation opted not to cast a primary vote at all.
“I abstained because I didn’t like any of them,” she explained. “I thought very highly of [Donovan] before. Unfortunately, reading the papers, it did kind of taint my opinion of him.”
Gervais said she still believes that Donovan is a good guy, and doesn’t think he is guilty of anything. But his campaign staff “needed parenting.”
Ruth Meiselman agreed with the sentiment.
“Donovan—there’s too much going on. Too much uneasiness,” she said.
But things were different in the cities where Donovan has a stronger base. In New Britain several voters said they were still supporting Donovan.
Vivian Williams, who cast her ballot at New Britain High School, said the investigation had no impact on her vote because that “shouldn’t stop him from doing a good job in the position that he’s going for.”
At Pulaski Middle School, Sondra Garcia said the federal investigation did not impact her vote because he wasn’t actually involved.
“I think he’s the right person, the right man.” Garcia said.
A voter named Howard told Donovan as he was exiting Vance School in New Britain that he voted for him.
“After a lot of soul searching I decided we need to send good Democrats to Congress,” Howard said.
Donovan didn’t mind being called a “good Democrat” but was concerned that Howard had to do some “soul searching” in order to vote for him.
Donovan said he was feeling good as the daylight dwindled and the number of voters coming to the polls started to pick up. He scoffed at the notion his support was coming strictly from the big cities in the district.
“It’s kind of a mixture,” he said.
The investigation wasn’t coloring the votes of everyone who came out in Farmington Tuesday. Mike Scricco, for instance, said he was aware of it but it wasn’t the reason he voted for Esty. Scricco, who works in marketing, said Esty seemed like an honest person.
“It was more of a positive vote for Esty,” he said.
Durwin Taylor and Vivian Jackson said former President Bill Clinton had a lot to do with their votes. The two got a robocall from Clinton Monday night asking them to support Roberti. Taylor said he wanted to send someone new to politics down to Washington.
“He’s a new face on the scene. Might as well give him a try,” he said.
Voters were also split on the other side of the aisle where Republicans are choosing in a four-way primary race. Their options are state Sen. Andrew Roraback of Goshen, who is the party-endorsed candidate, Lisa Wilson-Foley of Simsbury, Mark Greenberg, a developer from Litchfield, and Justin Bernier, a U.S. Navy veteran who worked for former U.S. Rep. Rob Simmons and former Gov. M. Jodi Rell.
Jane McLaughlin, former chief of staff for Republicans in the state senate, said she voted for Roraback, whom she knew from her time at the Capitol.
“I trust Andrew,” she said. “I think he has a lot of integrity.”
Roraback made a campaign stop outside Farmington High School, while voters were casting ballots inside. He said he had a busy day planned before the polls close at 8 p.m.
“Certainly we’re getting positive feedback, but at this point the voters have the last word and we always respect the word of the voters,” he said. “We’re not going to stop working until the polls close.”
However, Janet Harrison said Roraback, who’s voted moderately on social issues, was easily disqualified for her for not being conservative enough. She said the same of Wilson-Foley. That left Bernier and Greenberg. In the end Harrison went with Bernier.
“I feel he is the most conservative of the candidates and I like his military background,” she said.
Doug and Jeanne Johnson had an entirely different objective in mind when they cast their ballots in the Republican primary.
“I registered Republican to vote for the Republican candidate who’s most likely to lose to a Democrat,” Doug Johnson explained, a tactic he called “reverse psychology.”
In this case, they chose the candidate they thought had the least name recognition. They didn’t know who he was in the voting booth and couldn’t recall his name afterwards.
Elizabeth Bowling and Christine Stuart contributed to this report from New Britain.