Following a Tuesday fundraiser headlined by U.S. House Speaker John Boehner, 5th District candidate Andrew Roraback said Republican party leaders recognize the need to embrace socially moderate candidates.
Chris Cooper, Roraback’s spokesman, estimated about 90 people attended the event at the Hartford Club which raised about $50,000 for the campaign. Roraback said representatives of some of Connecticut’s largest employers attended the fundraiser. People from United Technologies, Aetna, Travelers, and The Hartford met with Boehner and discussed how to address the state’s unemployment rate, he said.
The event left Roraback open to criticisms from his political opponents who have been working to tie him to figures like Boehner since August. Roraback, a Republican state senator from Goshen, is running against Democrat Elizabeth Esty, a former state representative from Cheshire.
Though Roraback has a moderate voting record on social issues, both have pointed to his support of Boehner as evidence he will allow national Republicans to further their conservative agenda.
On the eve of Boehner’s visit, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee sent out a press release calling the $2,500 per person fundraiser Roraback’s “Tea Party coronation.”
“Speaker John Boehner fundraising behind closed doors for Andrew Roraback will confirm what we’ve been saying for months – that Andrew Roraback is a sell out to the Tea Party Republicans and their unpopular agenda to end Medicare’s guaranteed benefits in order to fund tax breaks for millionaires,” DCCC spokesman Stephen Carter said.
But Roraback, who held a press conference at the state Capitol after the fundraiser, said Boehner understands him to be a social moderate and recognizes the need to make the GOP an inclusive, “big tent party.” Boehner did not attend the press conference.
“The speaker started his day at a fundraiser for an openly gay Republican in Massachusetts who has a real shot at winning a Congressional seat… He then came to Connecticut to support a socially moderate, fiscally conservative Republican from Connecticut,” Roraback said.
To be a competitive national party, Roraback said Republicans have to welcome people with profiles like his. He said socially moderate candidates will help add a balanced perspective to the Republican Party.
“For people who are fearful the Republican Party has lurched too far to the Right, the answer is Andrew Roraback,” he said.
Asked if he would actually be able to buck his party leadership when Boehner actively helped his campaign, Roraback pointed to what he called his first big vote in the state legislature.
At the time, Roraback said former Republican Gov. John G. Rowland was urging him to vote in support of allowing a casino in Bridgeport. Roraback said he turned Rowland down and voted against the casino. He said he was also the only Republican on the Judiciary Committee who voted in support of same-sex marriage.
“I will take my lumps from the party leadership in Washington when I think they’re wrong and I won’t be afraid to tell them when I think they’re wrong,” Roraback said.
But in a Tuesday morning press release, the Esty campaign said Roraback’s positions on entitlement programs mirror those of national Republicans.
During the primary he called for Social Security changes like raising the retirement age and reducing cost of living adjustments, Esty spokesman Jeb Fain said. It’s a claim the Roraback campaign has denied. Cooper said Roraback actually called for raising the cost of living adjustment and steadfastly opposed privatization Social Security.
Fain said he’s also not offered any significant differences between his plan for Medicare and that of Republican vice presidential candidate U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, who has proposed a voucher program.
“Senator Roraback has taken great pains to run from his party and his policies since the GOP primary, but he has repeatedly left himself open to voucherizing Medicare and privatizing Social Security benefits,” Fain said. “The choice for 5th District voters in November is clear. Elizabeth Esty is the only candidate in this race who is committed to protecting Social Security and Medicare for current and future generations of Connecticut’s seniors.”
Roraback called the Esty campaign’s characterizations of his positions “hyper-partisan” and “disappointing.”
“For individuals who are 50 years old and older, I have no interest in changing your benefit structure. You’ve earned those benefits, you deserve the peace of mind knowing that the benefits you have with Medicare and Social Security will be there for you until your last day,” Roraback said Tuesday.
People under 50 have to understand that unless changes are made to the programs for them, the benefits won’t be there for them when they reach retirement age, Roraback said. He accused Esty of trying to “sow the seeds of fear” in seniors for her political benefit.
In a statement Esty’s campaign manager, Julie Sweet, called Roraback a career politician with a debt to repay.
“Senator Roraback is desperately trying to hide from voters that the first vote he’d cast is for Speaker Boehner – who just happened to raise him $50,000 today. That vote will mean an end to Social Security and Medicare’s guaranteed benefits for current and future generations,” Sweet said.