Washington — At a lectern emblazoned with a sign that read, “Fire the Tea Party,” Elizabeth Esty and 11 other Democratic candidates spoke at their party’s headquarters Friday morning as part of an effort to connect their rivals to the most extreme flank of the GOP.

“I’ve seen this battle on the ground,” Esty said. “The Republican Party has all its priorities wrong.”

Esty is running for the 5th District congressional seat against Republican state Sen. Andrew Roraback in a race that has been targeted by the national parties.

The race is so important because Democrats want to seize control of the House of Representatives, and Republicans want to hang onto it, making every close House race of national importance.

And the Esty-Roraback race is considered a toss-up by several political analysts, including the Rothenberg Political Report, and even the campaigns’ internal polls.

“The House is in play,” said Rep. Steve Israel of New York, head of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC). “We’re on the 20-yard line and ready to kick a field goal.”

Israel cautioned, however, that the ability to score with that field goal depends on how the political winds blow in the 46 days left before Election Day.

Few analysts think Democrats will gain the 25 seats needed to win the House. But they say Democrats can pick up as many as 10 to 12 seats, laying the groundwork for a takeover in 2014. Esty is part of that strategy.

At the DCCC event, candidates tried to link rivals to the tea party and to Republican positions that are unpopular in their states or districts. Florida candidates, for example, blasted the GOP for a proposal to turn Medicare into a voucher program and for supporting certain tax breaks for oil companies. The state has a large elderly population and has for decades battled oil companies that want to drill off of its pristine shores.

Esty attacked the GOP for “giving tax breaks to businesses that ship jobs overseas.”

She said manufacturers in the 5th District have been hurt by those tax loopholes, and she accused Roraback of joining Republicans “who know how to create jobs overseas.”

“We should give them pink slips instead of giving American workers a pink slip,” Esty said.

Because she’s running in a targeted race, Esty can count on plenty of help from the DCCC, which has made an initial commitment of nearly $400,000 to her campaign.

As a GOP “Young Gun,” Roraback is likely to receive similar help from the National Republican Campaign Committee (NRCC), as well as from the independent Young Gun Super PAC.

But Roraback isn’t likely to do what Esty did this morning — stand with party leaders to help promote a national campaign.

Roraback, instead, is keeping his distance from the national Republican Party, which has been drifting to the right.

The 5th District has been represented by both Democrats and Republicans, most recently by Rep. Chris Murphy, a Democrat who is vacating the seat to run for the U.S. Senate.

But 40 percent of the district’s voters are independents, and they are likely to decide the election. Many of these independents have been turned off by extremism in both parties.

Roraback’s first television commercial in the general election campaign began airing today.

In the 30-second spot, called “Solutions,” the Goshen Republican touts his moderate credentials and “record of independence and effectiveness.”

He was also taped warmly greeting a series of district residents, while a voiceover promises that Roraback will fight the political gridlock in Washington, D.C. The narrator also says Roraback has “a track record of bipartisanship.”

Democrats, including Esty, have tried to connect GOP candidates to vice presidential hopeful Rep. Paul Ryan’s plan to turn Medicare into a voucher program. An ad sponsored by the DCCC said Roraback “has now received his marching orders from Washington Republicans, including their extreme agenda to end Medicare.”

But in his television ad, Roraback promises to “protect and secure Medicare.”

“Esty has been desperately trying to link Andrew Roraback, who has an 18-year record of being a moderate, to some of the more extreme elements of the Republican Party,” said Roraback campaign spokesman Chris Cooper. “That just does not wash.”

Esty said she will air her first general election ad soon.

Cooper said Roraback hopes to run ads until Election Day.

Ana has written about politics and policy in Washington, D.C.. for Gannett, Thompson Reuters and UPI. She was a special correspondent for the Miami Herald, and a regular contributor to The New York TImes, Advertising Age and several other publications. She has also worked in broadcast journalism, for CNN and several local NPR stations. She is a graduate of the University of Maryland School of Journalism.

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