DANBURY—Former Gov. M. Jodi Rell has kept a low profile since leaving office almost two years ago, but she broke her political silence Tuesday to endorse Republican Andrew Roraback in the race for Connecticut’s open 5th District seat.
Rell, one of the state’s most popular female politicians, endorsed Roraback as Democrats have tried to align the socially moderate Republican with more extreme factions within the GOP.
Just minutes before the press conference began in Danbury, the campaign of Roraback’s opponent, Democrat Elizabeth Esty, emailed reporters a statement saying he would empower anti-abortion leaders in Washington.
“Voters in Connecticut have every reason to be disturbed by what they saw from Republican leaders in Tampa last week,” Jeb Fain, Esty’s spokesman, said. “Mitt Romney, Paul Ryan, and John Boehner are pushing for an agenda that is not only out of step with Connecticut’s middle class families – they’re pushing an agenda that is anti-jobs, anti-choice, anti-equality, anti-science, and anti-Medicare. Andrew Roraback has made it clear – he has their backs.”
Rell said the election year had moved into “the silly season,” when campaigns will say or do anything to elect their candidates.
“When Andrew’s opposition … started to try to paint him as some sort of Right Wing nut, for lack of a better term, someone who’s an out-of-touch, anti-women legislator, I had to laugh. I really did. Everyone who knows Andrew knows that’s simply not true,” Rell said.
Rell called Roraback a moderate and ran down a list of issues where he’s voted in the interests of women. He’s voted to protect a woman’s right to choose and advocated for victims of domestic violence, she said.
She pointed to a bill Roraback authored strengthening protections for domestic violence victims and allowing police to issue weekend restraining orders.
“I was proud to sign that legislation,” Rell said.
Roraback said if he were elected the first bill he would propose would be aimed at preventing breast cancer by notifying women with dense breast tissue of additional cancer screenings and giving them access to tools to ensure their screenings are effective. It’s a statute that’s already on the books in Connecticut.
“You shouldn’t have to live in the state of Connecticut to know that your health insurance policy will give you those tools,” Roraback said.
At the press conference Roraback touted his recognition by the Connecticut Coalition Against Domestic Violence as one of the 100 male leaders in the fight against domestic violence.
But according to the Esty camp, Roraback’s personal positions may not be as important as the positions of the Republican party leaders he supports. The campaign points to a statement from Roraback saying he would vote to keep House Speaker John Boehner in the position.
“It’s great that Senator Roraback is personally pro-choice, but that’s just not enough with the stakes this high. His personal views won’t mean much if he’s planning to give his party leaders like John Boehner and Paul Ryan the power they need to turn back the clock on women’s rights,” Fain said.
“In Congress, Elizabeth will stand up to those who would turn back the clock on women’s reproductive rights, restrict health care options for women, and who actually oppose and have opposed legislation to give women equal pay for equal work,” Fain added.
Roraback called the statement regrettably “hyper-partisan.” He said it used the same tone that has paralyzed Congress.
Roraback said he would be willing to “buck” his party when he felt they were in the wrong.
“For my opponent to try to tag me with the beliefs of someone else is not a very fruitful exercise because my beliefs are my beliefs,” he said. “… No one’s going to bring me into an agenda that’s not reflective of who I am.”
Roraback said people who are concerned with the direction of the Republican party seems to be headed in should see him as a tempering influence on more extreme views.
“I’m the answer to that. I’m someone who will bring the moderation that is needed to make our party an inclusive party,” he said.
Rell said trying to cast Roraback in an anti-women light was “downright mean.” So she choose to make her first endorsement since leaving the governor’s office.
“It’s just that I think you need to understand who he really is. And if I can help deliver that message as a woman—if that makes a difference, I don’t think it does anymore, but if it does—I’m glad to do it,” she said.