Former state Rep. Elizabeth Esty emerged victorious in a close contest against veteran state Sen. Andrew Roraback on Tuesday, outpolling Roraback 52 to 48 percent and helping the Democratic Party hold onto all five of Connecticut’s congressional seats.
In a tight race for the state’s first open congressional seat in 14 years, Esty would have voters believe she triumphed over Roraback and the last-minute spending by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s Super PAC, which spent $1 million on TV advertising in support of Roraback.
“We have proven in the Senate and the House that Connecticut cannot be bought,” Esty told her supporters at the Coco Keys Hotel in Waterbury. “The special interests were no match for the heart and soul of the 5th District and the people of Connecticut.”
But Roraback, who conceded the race to Esty around 11:35 p.m., said maybe it’s just that his brand of Yankee Republicanism doesn’t exist anymore in Connecticut.
It was the Democratic base in the urban areas that put her over the top.
Esty won by hefty margins in the district’s larger cities — New Britain, Meriden, Waterbury — while Roraback prevailed in most of the smaller towns and cities such as Torrington and Brookfield. However, Roraback’s margins were thinner in those towns, which gave Esty the opening to beat the popular 18-year veteran of the General Assembly.
“I have no regrets — none. This has been the most amazing experience of my life,” Roraback said. “We ran a super campaign and came up a few votes short.”
In introducing Esty, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy noted the success of other Democrats across the state against heavily-financed opponents.
“The Democrats have been outspent in every race and we won,” he said. “The special interests did not win. The bluest state is bluer than ever.”
However, he failed to mention that Esty actually raised more money than Roraback, making it one of the most expensive congressional races in the country. Esty raised and loaned herself more than $2.7 million, while Roraback raised around $1.1 million before money from outside special interest groups is counted. Collectively, there was more than $6 million spent on the race.
“No one will work harder for campaign finance reform,” Esty told supporters.
She also called on her supporters to help as she tackles the issues Democrats campaigned on — improving education, preserving Medicare and Social Security, getting loans for small businesses, and creating more jobs in the state.
“The constant goal has been to bring common-sense problem-solving to Washington,” she said. “I’m going to need you to step up again. These are not Democratic or Republican problems — they are American problems.”
Meanwhile in Torrington, Roraback choked back the tears as he described a supporter who flew to Washington on election day to take an important test.
“After he took the test, he went back to the airport and flew up here to campaign with us this afternoon,” said a visibly moved Roraback, who added that he called Esty to congratulate her on her victory and wished her well.
Roraback had banked on attracting the support of moderates and Democrats through his non-partisan voting record and through contrasting himself with the lesser known and sometimes wonkish Esty. Indeed, that strategy seemed to be holding up well in making him competitive in an environment that was not favorable to Republicans.
For Aileen Boucher, a Democrat and business owner in Farmington, Roraback’s qualities weren’t what earned him her vote.
“It wasn’t so much about what I liked about Andrew. It was what I didn’t like about Elizabeth,” she said earlier in the day.
Boucher said Esty’s overall presentation of her thoughts and theories just didn’t resonate with her.
Ironically, Roraback spokesman Brian Mattiello announced before Roraback conceded that his boss had held Esty to a near-tie in her hometown of Cheshire.
As if to emphasize the curious allegiances among Republican Roraback’s supporters, three women at the Backstage wearing Roraback stickers broke into a spontaneous dance celebration when ABC called the presidential election for Barack Obama.
Esty won a three-way primary in August, defeating House Speaker Chris Donovan of Meriden and Dan Roberti of Kent.