The new politics: a candidate celebrates being attacked

Never has a candidate been so happy to be attacked. With a Democratic super PAC spending $200,000 to undermine him, Republican congressional candidate Andrew Roraback gleefully proclaimed Thursday he must be the GOP’s best hope.

“Now is the time for us to unite around the candidate who clearly has been identified as having the capacity to win this election in November,” Roraback said. “It’s no secret why this super PAC is spending $200,000 trying to bring me down.”

Even in the new, anything-goes world of super PACs and unlimited, independent expenditures, the commercial now being aired against Roraback is stunning on several counts.

Like many of the independent attack ads in the 5th Congressional District, where four Republicans and three Democrats will be on primary ballots next week, it is rife with misleading and inaccurate claims.

But it has the unique distinction of being a wolf-in-sheep’s clothing. In this case, the Patriot Majority is taking on the persona of an outraged conservative, trying to convince GOP voters that Roraback is a tax-and-spend liberal.

“Andrew Roraback is no friend of the taxpayer,” says the ad.

In fact, the PAC is funded by labor unions that support Democrats.

“Never before in the history of Connecticut has there been such a cynical ploy to deceive voters,” Roraback said, standing outside the Connecticut Democratic Party headquarters in Hartford.

Other super PACs playing in the 5th District, which is Connecticut’s only open congressional seat, have fairly transparent agendas.

Women Vote, a super PAC affiliated with Emily’s List, is dedicated to electing Democratic women who support abortion rights. They are spending nearly $360,000 on mail and TV ads to benefit Elizabeth Esty, who is competing with Christopher Donovan and Dan Roberti for the Democratic nomination.

New Directions for America, which is spending more than $400,000 on ads against Esty and Donovan, is clear in its mission: It was organized to support Roberti.

But the Patriot Majority essentially is a Democratic group trying to shape a GOP primary, a reminder to voters that they need to look more closely than ever at attack ads and the groups behind them, said Nick Nyhart, the president of Public Campaign, a nonpartisan group.

“You have to look at the ulterior motives,” said Nyhart, a one-time Democratic activist in Connecticut. “Obviously, they prefer that Roraback is weakened, so he is less likely to win a primary or less likely to be strong in the general. It’s one or probably both of those.”

Nyhart said the willingness to play in the other party’s primary is evidence of how much money is available to super PACs. It also is likely a harbinger of things to come.

“Imagine a political system where this is the norm in 50 to 80 political races a year,” Nyhart said. “It boggles the mind. Voters need to look at where the money comes from, as well as the content of the ad.”

Chris Healy, a former Republican state chairman who is working on the campaign of one of Roraback’s GOP opponents, Lisa Wilson-Foley, said the super PAC ad was a distraction.

“People could be looking at races, looking to knock someone down. That’s always possible. You would go crazy trying to figure out who is more Machiavellian than the next guy,” Healy said. “I think this is a very close race taken at a time when it is a challenge to keep people focused on politics.”

At Democratic headquarters, the party’s executive director, Jonathan Harris, said the Democrat-as-conservative ad was an odd twist, but Roraback’s ire was misplaced. The party had no role in the independent expenditure.

“Unlike Sen. Roraback, I voted for campaign finance reform,” said Harris, who voted for the state’s public financing law as a state senator. Roraback was opposed.

The ad accuses Roraback, a state senator from Goshen who served 18 years in the state House and Senate, of voting for billions of dollars in sales tax increases, an increase in the diesel fuel tax and fees on Internet service.

Roraback did vote for a diesel increase proposed by a Republican governor, John G. Rowland. But he says the sales tax increases are overstated and the Internet claim is “an outright lie.” He did explore finding a way to provide Internet access to rural areas, like his district.

It did not result in legislation or higher Internet fees.