HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) -- House Speaker Chris Donovan withdrew Thursday as a third party candidate for Connecticut's 5th Congressional District, ending a bid for higher office that became mired in a federal campaign finance investigation.
Hours later, the Working Families Party endorsed his Democratic primary rival, former state Rep. Elizabeth Esty.
"Elizabeth Esty is in the best position to fight for working and middle class families going forward," said Lindsay Farrell, the minor party's executive director. Esty, who defeated Donovan in a three-way primary on Aug. 14, will have now her name appear twice on the November ballot, on the Democratic and Working Families lines.
The minor party had originally cross-endorsed Donovan. After losing the Democratic primary, he could have continued running in the 5th District as a Working Families candidate. Some Democratic leaders voiced concern, however, that he'd become a spoiler and ultimately help state Sen. Andrew Roraback, of Goshen, the GOP's 5th District candidate, win the seat being vacated by U.S. Rep. Chris Murphy, a Democrat. Murphy is now running for the U.S. Senate.
Donovan submitted a brief letter to Secretary of the State Denise Merrill on Thursday requesting that his name be withdrawn. The Working Families Party had until Sept. 5 to nominate someone else if it wanted to put a candidate on the November ballot.
Farrell said party officials this week spoke with Esty several times about her positions on issues and had "some very productive conversations" with her. The party's state committee voted Thursday afternoon to endorse her.
The minor party had concerns with Esty, who is considered more fiscally moderate than Donovan, on issues such as mandatory paid sick leave. She voted against paid sick leave legislation while she was in the General Assembly.
But Julie Kushner, co-chair of the party, said the members are confident Esty "will defend Social Security and Medicare and fight to raise the minimum wage."
In the same written statement, Donovan said he was proud to endorse Esty, saying she's "committed to the fight for working families" and has a record of advocating for middle-class jobs, women's rights, Medicare and Social Security.
Esty said in a statement that she is grateful for the endorsements from Donovan and the Working Families Party.
"Chris has a strong and admirable record of public service as both a leader in our state and a life-long fighter for the rights of working families," she said. "I know he will continue to be a strong voice for the middle class."
Farrell told The Associated Press that it was sad that Donovan's campaign became ensnared in a scandal over fundraising. Two of Donovan's former campaign aides were recently arrested and accused of conspiring to hide the source of $27,500 in campaign contributions to Donovan's congressional campaign. The contributions allegedly were tied to an effort to defeat state legislation to raise taxes on "roll-your-own" smoke shop owners.
The case remains under federal investigation. Donovan has denied any knowledge of the alleged scheme and has not been charged with any crimes.
Farrell said she understands Donovan's decision not to continue running as a Working Families Party candidate. She has said he realizes he could inadvertently help Roraback get elected.
"He really wants to make sure the interests of average families in the 5th District are represented, and he thinks this is the best way to do it," Farrell said.
Donovan last week called Esty and urged her to reach out to the Working Families Party, backed by organized labor, and discuss where she stands on issues the party cares about.
Donovan will remain the House Speaker until his term ends in January.
Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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