Will the third time be the charm for Daria Novak, the Republican running in the 2nd Congressional District trying to unseat U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney?
In 2012, Novak, who is now 59, failed to get enough support at the convention to primary state Sen. Paul Formica, who went on to lose to Courtney. In 2010, Novak won the GOP’s convention endorsement, but faced a primary challenge from local TV personality Janet Peckinpaugh, who went on to beat Novak. It was Connecticut’s only race that year where a challenger upset the party’s choice. Peckinpaugh later also lost to Courtney.
Despite her difficulty in the 2nd District, which is geographically Connecticut’s largest, Novak remains optimistic.
“My youth director is 16 years old,” she says. “He’s Hispanic — non-white Hispanic I guess technically would be the category. Emmanuel is incredible, he’s so bright. My field director is 18 years old and she’s incredible.”
In a recent interview, Novak emphasized running a campaign focused on the issues, and with a broad range of staffers across age and racial lines.
“The rule that I have is that everybody has to be polite, no personal attacks,” she continues. “If you personally attack another candidate, my own party or another, you’re automatically off the campaign. No second chances. One hundred percent no tolerance on that. I want to run a positive campaign, and we will be aggressive and we will talk about the issues, but you’re going do it in a fair and proper way.”
Yet, as talk turns to a presidential campaign dominated by personal attacks and racial tension, Novak toes the party line.
Asked about Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, the first words out of her mouth are “he’s fun, isn’t he?” She quickly disavows accusations of racism and concerns about whether her party’s nominee is qualified for the presidency, saying most attacks against him stem from media figures trying to “put him down and use data against him.”
“Donald Trump is a brilliant man who is not worried about what others think about him,” Novak said. “He’s worried about our nation first. He says what he thinks — he’s from New York, I realize he may have a little bit of a rough way of describing people, things or events — but he’s Donald Trump. He’s not trying to be something he’s not. Integrity is incredibly important to me.”
She supports Trump’s comments regarding NATO allies and their obligation to pay debts and contribute financially to the cause, arguing that NATO allies spend a great deal of money on domestic social safety nets, rather than defense. “Go back to the Treaty of Westphalia, defining a nation-state by its borders, you have to defend those borders,” she said.
Novak, of course, is not running to be president, but to be eastern Connecticut’s representative, and she says that Courtney forgets that this constituency is what keeps him in Congress.
“The most important thing that a congressman or congresswoman can do is to vote the will of the people. I think Joe Courtney was a good guy in his first term, he listened to the people and he did his job,” Novak said. “After that I think he lost his way. If you look at his voting record now, it’s very very strictly along party lines. He’s no longer representing the people, when you’ve been a career politician your whole life, I think you lose touch with the people.”
In an email, the Courtney campaign said that the congressman “remains focused on reducing the burden of college debt, expanding job opportunities in manufacturing, and supporting our senior citizens and veterans. Congressman Courtney has never taken the voters of the Second District for granted and that’s why each election he runs a robust campaign in order to communicate his vision and record of success for the district — 2016 will be no different.”
Courtney’s office has touted his effort to secure two Virginia-class submarines per year through 2019. Courtney also worked on the National Defense Authorization Act to restore $85 million in advanced procurement funds that were initially removed from the budget to ensure that there was an industrial base to support the two submarines per year.
The need for a strong defense and national security issues are also at the top of Novak’s agenda.
The former State Department employee during Reagan’s administration, Novak, who speaks fluent Mandarin, is happy to discuss foreign policy and U.S. defense policy.
“We’re calling it a post-Cold War period,” Novak explains. “It’s not. We’re really at war in a sense. What’s happening? We’ve reduced our [military] spending to post-Cold War eras, which normally I’d say ‘no problem, fine.’ But we’ve taken things out of the pipeline. So we’re looking down the road at having problems at a time when these other nations have come together and are spending more.”
Those “other nations” are a list of unaffiliated U.S. enemies that Novak warns are growing more and more belligerent as the U.S. flexes its military muscles less and less around the world. Russia is “spending much more on their military today, they’re much more aggressive than ever before,” Novak said. The Chinese are pushing into Philippine territory and are building a blue water navy, meaning ships built to cross deep oceanic waters.
North Korea’s Kim Jong-Un remains unpredictable and totalitarian. And in the wake of the Iran nuclear deal, Novak says “Hillary Clinton allowed the sale of 20 percent of the Uranium from U.S. mines to go to Russia.” (The State Department did approve of Russia’s gradual takeover of a company with significant U.S. uranium assets, but it did not act unilaterally, according to Politifact.)
“I haven’t even mentioned terrorism yet,” Novak continued. She’s concerned about growing strain in the U.S.-Israel relationship, which she sees as a necessary democracy in a region struggling against terrorist organizations like the so-called Islamic State and Al Qaeda. “They’re out to destroy Western civilization,” she says. “They don’t believe in the same things that we do. So I think this actually is civilizational warfare in the sense that they do not believe in the freedoms and the human rights that we have.”
Novak quickly clarifies that she’s not referring to “the average everyday Muslim. I mean jihadism, extremism, whatever the administration doesn’t want to call it.” Novak never used the phrase “radical Islamic terrorism,” a term embraced by conservatives. She also mentioned hiring a Muslim nanny when her children, now college-aged, were very young. She is Roman Catholic herself.
Yet, Novak criticizes U.S. policy-makers for not taking stronger stance against nations that restrict women’s rights on Islamic theological grounds. “It’s like we’ve forgotten that we’re an enlightened nation,” Novak says.
As a proud Reaganite, Novak’s two major platform planks are straight out of the Gipper’s playbook: lower taxes for all, higher military spending across the board.
“We have to take a stand at a point where our government will secure our nation and be able to uphold its commitments,” Novak says. “I think we’re in a bad position when our allies can’t trust us to do what we say with mutual defense agreements and other things. So I’m very concerned about the direction we’re heading in.”
A communications consultant from Madison, Novak also co-hosts a cable television and Internet show called the “American Political Zone.” She also contributes to a nationally syndicated radio program called the Vernuccio-Novak Report, which is co-hosted by Frank Vernuccio, who is editor-in-chief of a conservative newsletter.
“Against All Enemies, Foreign and Domestic”
“The first and prime responsibility of government is to secure the nation-state, so we’re not talking about aggression, we’re talking about being able to defend the homeland,” Novak says of her foreign policy priorities. To her, ideally the U.S. is able to solve all of its foreign disputes through diplomacy, whose purpose, she says, is “warfare by any other means. We don’t need to just be going out — and I’m not suggesting that we do — and bomb every nation that doesn’t agree with us, of course not.”
But the U.S. does have an obligation, in Novak’s view, to serve as an example for the rest of the world of a strong democracy and a protector of human rights. She called ending human rights abuses our “prime directive” in a nod to a fictional concept in Star Trek. “I can’t help it,” she said with a smile. “I grew up on it, one of the first posters in my bedroom as a kid was Spock.”
“But here’s the part that really concerns me,” Novak says. “If we say that the extremists are 10 to 30 percent — that’s typically the range that experts say — even 10 percent, people on the low end. That’s still well over 100 million people that are Muslim that have bought into the extremist ideology. That’s not to say that all of them are acting on it. But the idea is that it only takes a few individuals to come into this country, as we have seen with 9-11, Fort Hood, you can go on and on with the attacks.”
Novak says that whether she’d personally vote for military engagement with groups like ISIS or Boko Haram really depends on the individual circumstances, but should the government and American people approve of an intervention, it’s her job to step aside and allow military personnel to manage the conflict itself.
What she does want to do if she is elected is drastically curb borrowing and social spending, for the sake of the younger generation. Millennials, she warns, are the first generation “in our history that cannot expect to be better off than we are, and I just don’t think that’s right, that I’m spending [their] treasure. So I think what we need to do is look at getting spending under control, and also regulations.”
Novak considers current business regulation to be stifling economic and job growth. “Right now, more businesses shut down than are created each year. That’s not good for your generation. We’re destroying our economy. We need to return to free enterprise. So I’d like to see us get our spending under control, and our money.”
That said, she is looking at “taking away some of the power of the big banks” as part of a broader push to return to a gold standard, where the monetary system would be based on the fixed price of gold and not the dollar.
“We need to return to free enterprise,” she said.
Novak’s website says reintroducing the late-Jack Kemp’s 1984 legislation to return to the gold standard would be one of the first things she would do if she was elected.
The last Republican to hold the seat was former U.S. Rep. Rob Simmons, who Courtney defeated by less than 100 votes in 2006.
Novak will also have to contend with Green Party candidate Jonathan Pelto, who is also running for the 2nd District Congressional seat.