Following a nail-biting primary season, Republican State Sen. Andrew Roraback ’83 and Democrat Elizabeth Esty LAW ’85 have continued to clash in a neck-and-neck battle for Connecticut’s 5th District congressional seat.
Close races like that in the 5th District — for a seat which U.S. Rep. Chris Murphy vacated to run for the state’s open U.S. Senate seat — have garnered national attention as the election season grinds on toward November. As a result, both Esty and Roraback will likely receive assistance from high-profile politicians in their parties due to the “polarization” and increasingly “national tone” of state politics, said Gary Rose, a professor of political science at Sacred Heart University in Fairfield. Though Connecticut traditionally votes Democratic, Roraback, a moderate conservative who is serving his sixth term as a state senator, emerged as a strong contender in a race that several political analysts, including the Rothenberg Political Report, dubbed a “toss-up.”
“When the liberals call it a toss-up, it is very bad news for Elizabeth Esty,” Roraback wrote in an Aug. 28 release on his campaign website.
Though Connecticut Senator Richard Blumenthal LAW ’73, a Democrat who won his first term in 2010, called the race “very important” for the party’s quest to gain control of the House of Representatives, David Cameron, a Yale professor of political science, said the House is likely to remain in Republican hands regardless of the outcome.
Still, every seat counts in advancing the Democratic agenda, said Comptroller Kevin Lembo, a Democrat.
The polls, however, provide neither candidate confidence with Election Day just weeks away. The Roraback campaign released a Sept. 6 survey that shows him seven points ahead of Esty, but another poll conducted by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee suggests Esty is ahead by about the same margin.
But Rose said that Esty — who prioritizes women’s issues, Medicare and Social Security — would likely “ride on the coattails” of Chris Murphy’s Senate campaign and President Barack Obama’s reelection campaign, giving her an advantage over Roraback among the district’s moderate conservatives.
Esty has also benefited from generous donations from Connecticut Democrats, raising over $2 million in campaign finances, compared to Roraback’s $500,000 budget, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonprofit, nonpartisan research group.
Roraback’s failure to garner significant financial support from Republicans may be due in part to his effort to separate himself from the national party’s identity, Rose and Cameron said.
“It’s becoming a common strategy in this race for [GOP] House candidates to distance themselves from the presidential nominee with his many recent gaffes,” said Zak Newman ’13, president of the Yale College Democrats.
Roraback has vehemently rejected any association with the more right-wing factions of the Republican Party, such as the Tea Party. He threatened to take legal action against a Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee advertisement aired on local television stations that he said misrepresented his stance on Republican vice-presidential nominee Paul Ryan’s budget plan, painting Roraback as a hardline Republican with a Tea Party affiliation, said Steve Bassermann ’07, his campaign manager, in a Monday press release.
The economy may prove to be a decisive issue for voters in the 5th District, said Jeb Fain, a member of Esty’s campaign staff. Esty has promised to repeal tax breaks for the wealthy in order to help fund manufacturing growth and job training, Fain said. Roraback’s economic proposals center on fiscal austerity and stimulation of job growth in the private sector.
“I got in this race because I’m concerned about what’s happening to the middle class in America,” Esty told the News, calling the Washington establishment “completely broken.”
The Yale College Democrats have turned out in support of Esty, organizing weekly phone banks to contact voters and conduct polls. They hope to visit the 5th District on Oct. 6 to canvass with Murphy and Esty, said Nicole Hobbs ’14, the Dems’ events coordinator.