In Washington, 5th District race has gotten hotter

Washington — The scandal roiling Chris Donovan’s campaign for Congress has turned what was once considered somewhat of a sleeper here into a political contest to watch.

“Anytime a major candidate has a staffer arrested, we re-evaluate the race,” said Nathan Gonzales of the Rothenberg Political Report.

Before the FBI arrested Donovan’s campaign fundraiser this week, the politically influential report had ranked the 5th District contest as “Democrat Favored.”

But it could quickly drop to “Leans Democrat” or even “Toss Up.” It all depends on whether Donovan can survive the current scandal, and that’s going to be tough, Gonzales said.

“People are primed to assume the worse of politicians,” he said. “When something like this happens, it feeds the stereotype.”

Gonzales also said he will “wait to see how it all shakes out ….then look at the race with fresh eyes.”

On Friday, Donovan tried to distance himself from the scandal caused by his fundraiser — who is charged with illegally concealing the source of campaign contributions — by temporarily relinquishing some duties as speaker and by hiring a Republican former U.S. attorney to conduct an investigation.

Republicans in Washington could hardly contain their glee at the prospect of the fall of a Democratic front-runner — Donovan received 64 percent of the vote at the Connecticut Democratic Convention last month.

One national Republican Party official said Donovan’s problems will bring “a new focus and energy” to the 5th District race that will help GOP candidates with their fundraising.

Other Democrats in the race are former state Rep. Elizabeth Esty and Dan Roberti, a public affairs consultant. They would benefit if Donovan can’t shake the scandal.

But neither Democrat has Donovan’s broad-based support.

State Sen. Andrew W. Roraback is considered the favored candidate in a crowded field of four Republicans vying for Democratic Rep. Chris Murphy’s seat. Murphy is vacating that seat because he’s running for the Senate.

As can be expected, the national Democratic Party has kept mum about Donovan’s problems. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee did not respond to requests for interviews.

National Republican Congressional Committee spokesman Nat Sillin said, “The silence is deafening from national Democrats.”

“Putting their heads under their desks won’t improve their sinking chances in this race,” Sillin said.

But David Wasserman of the Cook Political Report said it’s “a bit premature” to say the district, represented by Republicans for years before Murphy won the seat, will return to the GOP.

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