Former Cheshire councilwoman and one-time state legislator Elizabeth Esty beat former state House Speaker Chris Donovan Tuesday in the race for the Fifth District nomination in a Democratic primary that was arguably the most watched contest in the state.
Donovan, the party’s endorsed candidate, conceded around 9:35 p.m. during a speech to supporters and the press at the Augusta Curtis Cultural Center in his hometown of Meriden. He took the opportunity to thank those who supported him, and to highlight some important "progressive agenda" issues he said he'd continue to fight for going forward.
“I spent my entire career fighting along side you — whether you’re a teacher or firefighter or a janitor — because you deserve fairness, dignity and respect,” Donovan said, as supporters cheered him on. “And while I won’t be the Democratic nominee in November, I will continue fighting for the progressive causes I have always fought for, and I’m going to be fighting there with you.”
Esty, a Cheshire resident, reportedly took to the stage at the Coco Key Waterbury Resort and Convention Center around the same time as Donovan’s concession speech. According to the Hartford Courant, she referred to her campaign as being a “long-shot,” but one that paid off in the end due to hard work.
Unofficial results posted by The Register Citizen show Esty getting 12,678 votes against Donovan’s 9,212, or 45 percent against 32 percent. The third candidate in the race, Kent resident Dan Roberti, got 6,583 votes. Early reports showed Esty ahead due to an advantage in suburban towns, but it wasn’t until the Fifth District’s urban centers came in that Esty’s lead solidified.
Esty took the lead in Brookfield, garnering 212 votes to Donovan's 185 and Roberti's 139.
Esty will now go on to face Andrew Roraback, a state senator from Goshen who won the Republican Party’s endorsement and solidified that achievement with a primary victory against three challengers.
The Democratic and Republican primaries end a monthslong campaign that was bitterly fought among seven candidates on both sides — and reportedly was one of the costliest in state history, as noted by The News Times of Danbury. It is the only open Congressional seat in 2012 in a large swing district that includes everything from urban areas to sprawling suburban communities to bucolic rural towns.
Donovan was initially the state Democratic Party's frontrunner after gaining the endorsement in May, only to fall from grace after a federal investigation into his campaign.
Members of his staff were arrested on charges of campaign finance violations highlighted by an alleged scheme to hide donations in exchange for influence on tobacco-related legislation. The arrests caused damage to his campaign that was, in the end, irreparable.
Donovan, a union-backed candidate with grass-roots support, had to fend off attacks from not only his Republican opponents but also Esty and Roberti. He also had to deal with SuperPAC ads from supporters of both Esty and Roberti.
In his concession speech, Donovan took a moment to address campaign finance reform.
“We fought this primary the old-fashioned way, with grass roots and shoe leather. And this race brought citizen’s united to our doorsteps, and mailboxes and TV sets,” Donovan said. “And now Connecticut knows we need campaign finance reform at the federal level, just like the law I passed at the state level.”
Donovan never mentioned Esty in his concession, although he reportedly called her to concede, as reported by CTNewsJunkie.com.
Several reporters swarmed Donovan for comments following the speech, although he did not answer questions and instead looped around the room shaking hands with supporters.