Democrats taking different paths with TV ads in 5th

The first television ad of House Speaker Christopher G. Donovan's congressional campaign is an unabashed appeal to liberals who tend to dominate Democratic primaries in Connecticut -- and a subtle reply to critical ads aired by his two rivals for the Democratic nomination.

"These days, some people are afraid to be called liberal or progressive," Donovan says, looking into the camera. "Republicans on the far right attack unions and hurt the middle class. And too many politicians won't fight back."

The ad draws a sharp contrast with the first commercials released by the Meriden legislator's two opponents for the Democratic nomination for the open seat in the 5th Congressional District: former state Rep. Elizabeth Esty of Cheshire and Dan Roberti of Kent.

In Esty's first ad, she stressed her moderate credentials as someone who pushed for budget cuts and stood up to her leadership, a reference to Donovan. Her second ad focuses on jobs, again describing her as outside the current political establishment.

"Maybe they are too busy bickering to hear it, the sound of jobs being shipped overseas," Esty says in her new ad, as the camera focuses on quick shots of the U.S. Capitol and a container ship on the high seas.

Donovan makes no mention of the scandal that has rocked his campaign: The FBI's arrest of his former chief fundraiser, who is accused of trying to trade Donovan's influence for $27,500 in campaign donations.

The ad now being aired by Dan Roberti, third candidate in the Democratic primary for the open congressional seat in the 5th District, takes Donovan to task for failing to directly address questions about the fundraising scandal.

In a strained segue from mention of his public service, Roberti says he seldom heard excuses from people he tried to help.

"You mostly mainly hear excuses from politicians, especially when their campaign has been caught breaking the law by the FBI," Roberti says.

Perhaps in response, Donovan's commercial is defiant in tone.

The commercial is an opportunity for Donovan to show his political strength: passion for a progressive agenda that has won him the endorsements of labor and liberal grass-roots groups.

As a majority leader and then speaker of the state House of Representatives, Donovan has pushed for a paid sick leave law, minimum wage increases, a progressive tax structure and the public financing of campaigns.

They are assets in a Democratic primary that the Republican nominee -- whomever wins a four-way GOP primary -- undoubtedly will treat as liabilities in the general election.

"I'm proud of my record of standing up for what's right," Donovan says, sleeves rolled up. "Leading the fight to clean up elections. Making millionaires pay their fair share. Working to help seniors stay in their own homes."

As he continues to talk, people are shown holding signs bearing the names of some of the labor and grass-roots groups that have endorsed him: MoveOn, SEIU, AFL-CIO and the Connecticut Democratic Party.

"I'm Chris Donovan and I approve this message," he says, "because in Congress, I'll fight back and keep standing up for you."

As he finishes speaking, the camera pulls back to a wide shot, showing supporters cheering the pledge to "fight back and keep standing up," a line that could be seen with a double meaning given his recent troubles.

The main question about the efficacy of the ad is whether Donovan, who lost a month of fundraising time after firing top staff, will have the resources to give it broad air play in the remaining three weeks until the Aug. 14 primary.

Gabe Rosenberg, a spokesman for the campaign, declined to give details about how much time the campaign has purchased to air the spot, other than to say it is airing on broadcast television.

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