Elizabeth Esty didn’t let a setback drag her down for long.

She won a state House seat in 2008, beating Republican Al Adinolfi, who’d held it eight of the previous 10 years. It was a close race, and Adinolfi challenged her re-election bid last year.

Elizabeth Esty

Democratic candidate Elizabeth Esty

Their rematch took place during the high-profile trial of Steven Hayes, who faced the death penalty for killing a Cheshire woman and her two daughters during a 2007 home invasion. Adinolfi made clear his support for the death penalty, which Esty had voted to abolish while in the House.

Adinolfi won by 140 votes.

Esty soon moved on to the next race. She said she began thinking about a run for Congress in January, officially announcing her candidacy in early April.

“If it’s hard, you double down, and then people make their choice,” she said

The 5th District is a rare open seat, with incumbent Chris Murphy running for U.S. Senate. Esty’s opposition for the Democratic nomination includes her former colleague and leading progressive in the legislature, House Speaker Chris Donovan of Meriden.

“It seems like every day there’s a new candidate,” Esty said. “There are 41 towns in this district. How do you harmonize them all?”

Esty reported raising $423,803 as of June 30 and had $361,419 cash on hand.

Esty got her political start by serving two terms on a closely divided Town Council. She said arguments dividing the town over the school budget led her to try to create more unity.

“There had to be a better way than ‘us vs. them,’” she said.

On a national level Esty said she believes Americans can unify over the issue of energy.

“We have a failure in this country to make moves toward cleaner, independent energy sources and we have an abusive relationship with the Middle East,” she said. “Energy has become an area that’s a party issue and it shouldn’t. It’s an American issue.”

She said Congress needs to invest in a “green bank,” financing infrastructure and a “green” economy that creates long-term, sustainable clean energy jobs.

“If you make the right investments, you get an enormous return,” she said.

Esty shares her interest in the subject with her husband, Dan Esty, who earlier this year became head of the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection.

“He’s taken a more public policy route, where I’ve taken the elected route,” she said. “I’ve benefited greatly from his work and he’s benefited greatly from mine. He helps me see what the business community needs and we learn from each other that way.”

In addition to Esty’s ideas about clean energy, she said fiscal responsibility, a reoccurring issue among the 5th District’s candidates, tops her to-do list.

“I’ve made it my hallmark,” she said. “It shouldn’t be a crime to question if something is worth it. We’re not done when we pass a bill. When I was a lawyer, a public policy analyst, a member of the Town Council and at the Capitol, I always did my homework.”

One national organization recently recognized Esty for her work. EMILY’S List, an organization supporting the election of pro-choice Democratic women, placed Esty “On the List,” indicating its support of her candidacy early in the race.

“It’s a testament to how hard I’ve been working,” she said. “They acknowledged only seven seats nationwide and I’m the only one who hasn’t run before or who had a spouse in that seat. I have earned their support because of my background.”

Esty possesses many ideas, moving from one to the next, but she said that what Americans want is not complicated.

“People just want to get on with their lives,” she said. “For the first time since the Depression, Americans feel less optimistic about their future. That’s a scary thought.”

As originally posted, this story incorrectly referred to Esty joining a Town Council with a Republican majority.

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