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Congress / HOUSE RACES

In Connecticut, Republican Candidate Not So Eager to Tea Party

State Sen. Andrew Roraback, left, tallies votes at the state convention in Hartford, Conn., Friday, May 18, 2012.(AP Photo/Jessica Hill)

September 27, 2012

HARTFORD, Conn.—The Republican candidate for an open congressional seat in central and northwestern Connecticut says he is being shamefully maligned.

Washington Democrats are suggesting that Andrew Roraback will stand behind Washington Republicans and their policies. Even worse, they say he’ll also “fit right in” with tea party Republicans. 

“Outright lies,” insists Roraback, when discussing a Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee commercial launched over the weekend. He is demanding, without success, that Connecticut TV stations stop airing the spots. 

 

Even his opponent, Democrat Elizabeth Esty, refuses to characterize Roraback as a tea party Republican. “I don’t say that,” she responds. 

But, alas, she also claims there’s nothing she can do to stop the ads. “I can’t be responsible for messages of outside groups,” she says, casting the DCCC as some mysterious group, which under a landmark 2010 Supreme Court ruling can run such shadow campaigns. She’d rather talk about issues, she insists, but that’s “the world we live in.” 

Such is the status of this year’s campaign for Connecticut’s 5th District seat, which will be won by a newcomer because Democratic Rep. Chris Murphy is running instead for the Senate. There has not been much public polling but the race is widely viewed as close. A Roraback victory would be a rare Republican pickup in a state that no longer has any GOP members of Congress.

Unique opportunity aside, the campaign has taken a turn that illustrates the uphill battle Roraback knows he is climbing. He has been compelled to express indignation over a commercial that opens with his image appearing among photos of Speaker John Boehner, vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan, Majority Leader Eric Cantor, National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Pete Sessions of Texas, and Reps. Allen West of Florida and Michele Bachmann of Minnesota. Granted, there’s also Sarah Palin and Rep. Todd Akin, R-Mo., he of the “legitimate rape” remark. 

An announcer then states: “Meet Washington’s tea party Republicans. 

“And Andrew Roraback?” the voice goes on. “He’ll fit right in. They’ve been pushing a plan the Wall Street Journal says ‘would essentially end Medicare.’ And they need Andrew Roraback’s help to finish the job.…That’s their plan … and they need Andrew Roraback’s vote.” 

Roraback, who has served 18 years in the state Legislature, said on Wednesday, “I’m not a Boy Scout, but I thought the debate would be moored in the truth.” 

His main objection: “the clear implication that I support the Ryan budget, when I have been on record throughout this campaign in saying I wouldn’t support the Ryan budget,” a reference to the GOP spending plans under Ryan R-Wis., the House Budget Committee chairman. 

But the Democrats’ TV ad doesn’t actually ever say that Roraback would vote for such a plan to privatize Medicare — only that Republican leaders would need his vote for their plan. 

What’s really going on here is that Roraback understands that the point being hammered home in the ad is essentially what he has tried to insulate himself from — such an “extreme” national agenda doesn’t play in some more-moderate parts of the country, such as the Northeast. That is precisely why Roraback devotes a lot of stump time to emphasizing that he is a moderate Republican and focusing on issues on which he disagrees with many Republicans in Washington. He spends a lot of time discussing social issues. For instance, he supports abortion rights and same-sex marriage. 

“I think my party needs me,” Roraback declared on Tuesday night while speaking to college students in Danbury. “Because they are not going to succeed in New England, or on the West Coast, unless they welcome people of more moderate social views.” 

Roraback insists he is willing to buck party leadership when necessary and that working out compromises, including with tea party-backed lawmakers, comes naturally to him. 

Washington Democratic strategists say that after winning a four-way primary, Roraback is just strategically tacking back to the middle, hoping to convince pivotal independent voters that he is his own man. 

Before shifting into general-election mode, Roraback emphasized his conservative fiscal bona fides, they say. That included at points declaring he was the “real” conservative in the primary. Some of his positions on fiscal matters also aligned with tea party ideology. Even now he does flash conservative fiscal leanings; for instance, he says all of the Bush-era tax cuts should be renewed, even for the wealthiest, until an entire overhaul of the tax code is accomplished. 

The DCCC’s Stephen Carter says that Roraback more often hides his tea party agenda, declaring, “He said he would represent the tea party if he got to Congress, which means he won’t be representing Connecticut families.” 

Roraback dismisses such rhetoric and reiterates his independence. 

“I’ve been in Washington and I’ve told the leaders of my party that when I am elected they are going to have to put up with someone who disagrees with them from time to time.” 

Meanwhile, Esty, who insists she can do nothing about the DCCC commercial, is nonetheless taking advantage of the brouhaha. 

“The national Republican agenda that has been pursued for the last two years with John Boehner as speaker and controlled largely by a tea-party caucus has taken an obstructionist (route), a ‘no-no-no’ approach to everything,” she said in during a radio interview Wednesday on Hartford’s WNPR. 

“So, the reality is if you take a seat from the 5th Congressional District in central and northwest Connecticut and you send a Republican to Washington — what you’ve done is added another vote, added more support at the national level to this national agenda,” she concluded, adding that the simplest solution is to send her to Capitol Hill to succeed Murphy.

 

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