Two years ago, former state Sen. Andrew Roraback came within 3 percentage points of winning a 5th District congressional race that, like the rest of Connecticut, seemed on its way to becoming a “safe” seat for Democrats.

Roraback won Litchfield County and Farmington Valley towns that had previously gone to former 5th District congressman and now U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy.

But it was a presidential election year, Murphy was getting out the vote for his U.S. Senate campaign against Linda McMahon, and there was high voter turnout in the heavily Democratic 5th District cities of Meriden, New Britain, Waterbury, and Danbury.

Roraback had a net margin of victory of more than 18,000 in the 5th District’s other 37 communities, but lost those four cities by 26,000 votes.

Elizabeth Esty, the woman who beat him and is seeking re-election to a second term Nov. 4, has openly worried about the importance of turnout in those cities in a mid-term election with a contentious gubernatorial election at the top of the ballot. Fellow Democrat Dan Malloy, seeking a second term as governor, lost the 5th District by more than 30,000 votes four years ago and is likely to again, meaning Esty will need to convince many independent voters to split their ballot.

But the path to victory for Mark Greenberg, the Republican nominee in the 5th District this year, is pretty steep. Roraback won 14 communities that former Sen. Sam Caligiuri lost in his 18,477-vote defeat by Murphy in 2010. He did better than Caligiuri in every municipality in the district except the four big cities and three other towns, including Esty’s hometown of Cheshire.

Roraback’s margin in the cities was nearly 10,000 votes less than Caligiuri, in part because of turnout and in part because of Caligiuri’s significantly better-than-normal performance in Waterbury, where he had been a city councilor and acting mayor.

Greenberg, a far more conservative candidate than Roraback on social issues, is unlikely to do better in some of the liberal Litchfield County communities that went Republican two years ago because of Roraback’s popularity in his old state Senate district. And he’s unlikely to do as well as Caligiuri in Waterbury.

To win, he’ll need to hold the Farmington Valley and hope that negative sentiments about Malloy and President Obama lead to an “enthusiasm gap” in the cities and a strong backlash against Democrats in the suburbs.

5th district vote chart

Matt DeRienzo is the former editor of the New Haven Register, Register Citizen, Middletown Press, Connecticut Magazine and other Digital First Media publications in Connecticut and former publisher of The Register Citizen in Torrington. Email him . Follow him on Twitter at @mattderienzo.

DISCLAIMER: The views, opinions, positions, or strategies expressed by the author are his alone, and do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions, or positions of

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Matt DeRienzo

Matt DeRienzo is the editor of the Center for Public Integrity.

The views, opinions, positions, or strategies expressed by the author are theirs alone, and do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions, or positions of or any of the author's other employers.