For their levels of gamesmanship and intense competition, politics and sport are often compared. Indeed, the rivalry between the Red Sox and Yankees, for example, bears some resemblance to the ill will that festers between Democrats and Republicans, conservatives and liberals.

But perhaps the most vexing variety of political animosity is the hard feelings that often linger between candidates of the same party after the primary is over and the nominee is declared.

In the case of sore loser Chris Donovan and his followers, the posturing and whining is a little tough to take. Donovan, the outgoing speaker of the state House of Representatives and a favorite of the left wing of his party, recently lost the Democratic primary for the 5th Congressional District after his campaign was rocked by a devastating fundraising scandal. Donovan, who has not yet been implicated, could remain on the ballot, however, as he had already secured the endorsement of the Working Families Party earlier this year.

The winner, former state representative Elizabeth Esty of Cheshire, is often derided by Donovan’s followers as a moderate, or when the speaker is feeling less charitable, “Republican Lite.” Consequently, Donovan and most of his union acolytes are withholding their support of Esty, whom they have never viewed as one of their own.

You’d think the sins of the victor would have to be rather grievous for losing Democrats to threaten to withhold support of a fellow Democrat. So what was Esty’s sin?

She has dared to express some reservations about union priorities, including mandatory paid sick-leave time in the private sector, “longevity payments” (i.e. bonuses) for state employees and out-of-control pensions costs. While in the General Assembly, Esty also supported a Democratic alternative budget that made spending cuts and did not increase taxes on the wealthy as much as Donovan would have liked.

For an eloquent defense of Esty’s departure from union orthodoxy, look no further than Rep. Linda Schofield of Simsbury, a fellow Democrat who not only pointed out the folly of branding Esty as a Republican in sheep’s clothing, but painted a picture of a petty and vindictive Speaker who winked at his own staff’s misdeeds. Sound familiar?

But as of this writing, it looks like organized labor leaders are starting to circle the wagons. While some unions continue to withhold support of Esty, AFL-CIO President John Olsen has acknowledged that Donovan has “no path to victory” and has urged his membership to get behind Esty.

As of late this week, Donovan himself remained mum. His concession speech was notable for its lack of grace and humility, as evidenced not only by his refusal to endorse Esty but by his failure to even utter her name. Donovan then disappeared and went on vacation. Even campaign spokesman Gabe Rosenberg didn’t know when the boss would be back.

It goes without saying that an active Donovan candidacy as the Working Families candidate would hand the seat to state Sen. Andrew Roraback, the moderate who won the Republican nomination in the primary earlier this month.

This is not the 2006 U. S. Senate race, when incumbent Joe Lieberman lost the Democratic primary to anti-Iraq war candidate Ned Lamont, but cleverly went on to vanquish Lamont and win a final term as an independent. With his staunchly progressive voting record, Donovan is simply incapable of winning over enough unaffiliated voters to emerge victorious over Esty and Roraback in the swing-district 5th.

So why don’t more of Donovan’s supporters jump on the Esty bandwagon? I guess it’s for the same reason many Tea Partiers in the Northwest Corner tell me they won’t support Roraback. They demand purity and would rather lose to the other party than elect a mushy moderate. If you ask me, losing is a hell of a way to advance your agenda.

Terry Cowgill blogs at ctdevilsadvocate.com, is the editor of ctessentialpolitics.com and was an award-winning editor and senior writer for The Lakeville Journal Company.