At 3:54 p.m. on Feb. 1, 1995, Andrew W. Roraback cast the first in what by his count is an unbroken string of 8,470 roll call votes in the General Assembly. The question now is how many of them will dog his candidacy for Congress.
Lisa Wilson-Foley, one of his rivals for the Republican nomination for the open 5th Congressional District seat, already is on the attack with email blasts and a radio commercial over his votes to repeal the death penalty.
What else is coming? His votes on gay marriage? Of perhaps transgender discrimination? Maybe the minimum wage? All those and more are potential fodder in a Republican primary.
“My biggest flaw is I haven’t missed a vote in 18 years, so there are 8,470 bones available to pick,” said Roraback, a self-described social moderate and fiscal conservative from Goshen, a small town in the Litchfield Hills.
Roraback, 51, a state representative for six years and a state senator for the past dozen, is the only one of five Republicans in the race with a legislative voting record. Wilson-Foley is a business owner.
The early attack ad by Wilson-Foley can been seen as a backhanded compliment, an acknowledgement that her advisers, who include former Republican State Chairman Chris Healy, see Roraback as her leading rival.
“It’s appropriate to raise the issue as one that separates her from him. The timing is appropriate for that,” Healy said. “And people will evaluate that and other issues just as Sen. Roraback talks about the work he has done.”
Last week, Roraback cast a vote in the Judiciary Committee to draft a new death penalty bill and schedule a public hearing.
Wilson-Foley’s campaign was ready. In a 60-second ad airing across the district, a woman is heard asking and answering an unflattering question about capital punishment:
“Who wants to make Connecticut a more dangerous place? The liberal politicians and special interests in Hartford trying to eliminate the death penalty. Soft-on-crime liberals are trying to repeal the death penalty protecting us from violent criminals. The death penalty is the law of the land. We need to strengthen it.”
Warning that Roraback could be the decisive vote this year, it urged voters to call him.
“I got some, not a torrent,” Roraback said. “I haven’t kept track of the precise number, probably 15 to 20, something like that. And calls went both ways on the issue.”
Wilson-Foley said the commercial was meant to influence his vote, not attack his record. If repeal is to pass this year — and the prospect is unclear — it could clear the Senate by the thinnest of margins.
“I don’t want him to be the last vote to repeal our death penalty,” Wilson-Foley said in an interview last week.
But she pounced again when Roraback, addressing a GOP town committee in Cheshire, the location of the grisly home-invasion that took three lives and produced two death sentences, suggested he might not vote for repeal.
Roraback is now making another repeal vote contingent on the reversal of a law allowing early releases of inmates under certain conditions.
“The people who serve in elective office should have principles and not bargain them away for political ends,” Wilson-Foley said in a statement emailed to reporters Monday. “Keeping the death penalty is a serious matter and it shouldn’t become a political trading card. You are either for it or against it.”
Richard Foley, a former GOP state chairman and legislator supporting Roraback, questioned how many votes the death penalty can influence in a congressional race, but he allowed that a perfect record of casting roll-call votes is a double-edged achievement.
“Clearly, since the advent of the Tea Party, in particular, but even before then, an 18-year record can be a burden. Something that was a perfectly wonderful idea 10 or 12 years ago might be perfectly awful today,” Foley said. “In my discussions with him, he believes the fact he didn’t miss a vote is the operative part. It shows an underlying dedication that is not matched by many.”
Roraback’s first vote was as a House member. He joined the majority in voting 140-1 in confirming Richard Stanley as a judge of the Superior Court, one of 13 judicial nominations approved by roll call in 38 minutes.
He said he hasn’t missed a floor vote since, whether on matters mundane or momentous. With other Republicans, he has voted for and against raising the minimum wage, depending on economic conditions.
He voted years ago with four other Republicans, including the Senate minority leader, John P. McKinney of Fairfield, to outlaw discrimination against transgendered persons.
Last year, a revised version of the bill passed without a single Republican vote. He voted to codify same-sex marriage in state law after it was legalized by a state Supreme Court decision.
Wilson-Foley said gay marriage is another issue that separates her from Roraback.
“I believe a marriage is between a man and woman. Growing up in the Catholic Church, to me marriage is a sacred thing,” said Wilson-Foley, who has less of an issue with same-sex civil unions. “It really is terminology with me. That’s just who I am.”
Cultural issues have been dominating the Republican presidential race in recent weeks, but Roraback said they are a losing hand in the general election.
“If people want a congressman to go to Washington to engage in a culture war, they should not vote for me, that’s not my strength,” he said. “If they want someone who will be a voice of fiscal responsibility, a strong defender of national security and someone who favors energy independence, they should take a hard look at me.”