Washington – With the 5th District seat in Congress at stake, Democratic Rep. Elizabeth Esty and challenger Republican Mark Greenberg are making last-minute appeals to turn out their supporters and sway the undecided.
Both candidates have released new attack ads in the week before the Nov. 4 elections.
The Greenberg campaign has come out with a hard-hitting ad called “Esty’s record” that ties her to President Obama, who has reached new lows in popularity in the polls, and to Obamacare, the Veterans Administration scandal, terrorism in the Middle East and Ebola.
“The last two years in Washington have been a failure,” the ad says. “And Elizabeth Esty has stood by President Obama’s failed agenda, voting with her party 94 percent of the time.”
“Her votes, her record, her lies, we just can’t trust Elizabeth Esty and we can’t give her two more years,” a narrator says.
Esty punched back immediately with an ad released Wednesday called “The Choice.”
In the ad, a narrator says “We have a choice to make. Mark Greenberg called Social Security a failure. He’d raise the retirement age. And opposes a woman’s right to choose. Elizabeth Esty is a problem solver.”
The ad also says the Hartford Courant has endorsed Esty and flashes favorable quotes from the Meriden Record-Journal — “refreshing display of bipartisanship” — and the Lakeview Journal — “principled and determined.”
“The biggest mistake a candidate can make at the end is to coast,” said Norman Ornstein, a political scientist and resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. “You have to be prepared for late attack ads, but the key in most races these days is to make sure your voters turn out more than the other side’s.”
Ornstein said turning out voters “may work better by angering them about the other side.”
He said Republicans – including Greenberg – are doing this by attacking Obama “who is despised by the GOP voters.”
Democrats are motivating their base by appealing to minorities, younger voters and women in last-minute ads, Ornstein said.
Esty captured one of those themes in what’s likely to be her last campaign ad. It says Greenberg “opposes a woman’s right to choose.”
But University of Connecticut political science professor Ron Schurin said Esty’s criticisms of Greenberg’s position on Social Security may have more impact.
“I imagine Esty is making a pitch to people who might be Republican voters, especially the elderly,” Schurin said “Esty’s ad might make them distressed.”
Esty visited senor centers in Torrington and New Britain this week and planned an event at a Meriden senior center Thursday, where she will be presented with boxing gloves by the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare. The Esty campaign says the gift is to thank Esty for “fighting for seniors.”
The appeal to women voters, a key message among national Democrats, may not be as fruitful for Esty, Schurin said. “Women are already in Esty’s camp.”
Meanwhile, Greenberg’s criticisms of the Obama administration’s competence “are legitimate” Schurin said, especially when it comes to the VA scandal and the disastrous rollout of the federal Affordable Care Act web site.
But whether Esty will be damaged by Obama’s failings is not clear, the professor said.
In any case, the 11th-hour campaigning is focused on a fraction of the voters in the 5th District, Shurin said. “I would think that about 95 percent of the voters have made up their minds, and it would take something cataclysmic to change it.”
The ground game
In the last few days before the polls open, candidates campaign to woo the 4 or 5 percent of votes that can be shifted — but especially to make sure their supporters get to the polls, a greater challenge in mid-term elections that don’t feature a presidential contest at the top of the ticket.
“You try to go to the areas where you have some challenges in the beginning of a campaign, and you go to the places where you are the strongest in the end to get out the vote,” said former Republican Rep. Chris Shays, who once represented the 4th District.
Greenberg campaign manager Bill Evans said the Republican candidate’s schedule is fluid, but will include appearances with GOP gubernatorial candidate Tom Foley, “given the 5th district likely being the one that provides Tom with the biggest margin of victory, similar to 2010.”
Evans also said Greenberg will be in Newtown, in the vicinity of the town hall, giving out candy on Halloween, between 5 p.m. and 7 p.m.
Esty has planned a whirlwind of activities.
On Halloween she’ll visit diners in Danbury and grocery stores in Woodbury and Wolcott. In the evening Esty will be at the fire departments in Watertown and Cheshire for Halloween candy giveaways.
Over the weekend, Esty plans several “get out the vote rallies” with volunteers in Waterbury, New Britain, Torrington, and Danbury and will attend church in Danbury and Waterbury. Then she plans to stop at grocery stores in the Farmington Valley.
The sprint to the finish includes visits to diners and a hospital in New Britain and last-minute stops in Meriden and Waterbury. Along with Danbury, these towns, with their strong number of Democratic voters, helped give Esty a slim margin of victory in 2012, when she defeated Republican Andrew Roraback.
While Greenberg can count on GOP heavyweight Foley to help him turn out the Republican base, Esty, who has been endorsed by the Working Families Party, is likely to have help from union members.
Although they are miles apart in ideology, both Esty and Greenberg will end their campaigns in the same town — the rivals have both scheduled their election night parties in Waterbury.